Mentally Ill Inmates in LA Jails Face "Deplorable" Conditions and Suicide Risk

The county plans to build a $2 Billion twin-tower complex to address the mental health issue

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    A civil rights group claims the LA County jail system is the nation's largest mental hospital, calling for changes that it says will save money, improve public safety and reduce jail overcrowding and abuse. Conan Nolan reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. from downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (Published Tuesday, July 1, 2014)

    Saying it could help improve public safety and reduce jail overcrowding, the ACLU on Tuesday urged officials to divert non-violent inmates with mental illness from jails into community treatment.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law jointly unveiled "A Way Forward," saying its recommendations would save money, improve public safety by reducing the number of repeat offenders and reduce jail overcrowding.

    "Jail is going to be a system for security," said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of ACLU Southern California. "Mental health is never going to be at the forefront."

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    An estimated 3,200 inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness are jailed in Los Angeles County, making it the nation's largest psychiatric institution, according to the report.

    The report comes after the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates with mental illness by failing both to provide adequate care mental health care and implement necessary suicide prevention protocols.

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    Former LA County inmate Peter Starks has lived his life with mental illness, and said that his darkest time was spent inside an LA County jail for six months.

    "I screamed kicked and hollered and I let them know I had PTSD," said Starks. "I needed those medications."

    In order to address the recent issues regarding inadequate care for mentally-ill inmates, the city plans to build a $2 billion twin-tower complex designed for the mentally ill with 3,700 beds.

    But the mental health advocates says it's a bad move.

    "These programs are relatively expensive mental health programs but they are a lot less expensive than keeping people in the jail, possibly three to five times less expensive," said Dave Pilon, of Mental Health America of Los Angeles.

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