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On March 14, 2014, the Special Litigation Section of the DOJ Civil Rights Division notified the Orange County Jail on December 23, 2008 that it would be initiating an investigation.
The investigation focused on protection from harm; use of force; unlawful searches; discriminatory treatment based on race, color, or national origin; medical and mental health care; and environmental conditions. During the Division’s initial round of inspections, it reported serious issues including excessive use of force, inadequate mental health care, and unlawful racial segregation. The findings letter concluded that the County had taken extensive remedial measures to address these issues and that the Division observed substantial improvements. However, the Division emphasized that specific systemic deficiencies related to use of force and medical care remained. Although the deficiencies were more limited than what existed at the beginning of the Division’s review, the findings letter concluded that the remaining deficiencies reflect longstanding systemic issues and pose an ongoing risk of harm to the incarcerated individuals. Additionally, the findings letter reported that some of the improvements, particularly with respect to staffing and overcrowding, were not yet fully institutionalized. The Division warned that past improvements could easily disappear should Jail budget problems or other factors of similar scope alter conditions at the Jail.
The Division identified six areas of concern that required further remediation: 1) continued use of “carotid control holds”; 2) lack of adequate weapon controls; 3) poor supervision due to staffing and housing configuration issues; 4) insufficient privacy protection in the intake process for initial medical screenings and assessments; 5) lacking clinical guidelines and components in the medical policies for serious chronic diseases; and 6) over-reliance on unsafe segregation cells and restrictive interventions due to a limited array of mental health treatment and housing options. The findings letter recommended the Jail to take additional steps to avoid violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections for pre-trial detainees and the Eighth Amendment’s protections for convicted individuals.
Specifically, the Division recommended the County ensure that staff practices are consistent with a policy that treats carotid holds as a higher order of force and thus limits their use. The Division also recommended that the County assess and develop an inventory control process for all security equipment used in the Jail, including ECWs, bean bag guns, and chemical sprays. With respect to poor supervision, the Division recommended that the County ensure sufficient staffing to conduct and document frequent rounds in all housing units at irregular intervals to make them less predictable. The Division also recommended that the County consider adding cameras to supplement supervision in the Jail, but not to substitute actual staff presence. To address insufficient privacy protection in the intake process, the Division recommended that the County modify intake operations or expand the booking space, which would allow staff to conduct medical interviews in private. For serious chronic diseases, the Division recommended that the County develop an electronic medical record system that provides for adequate assessment, treating, monitoring, and continuity of care. For mental health services, the Division recommended that the County should work with the medical provider to broaden the array of treatment and housing options. The Division noted that the County should give particular attention to expanding programs for female individuals.
The findings letter concluded that the Division expected to formally close this matter if the County could demonstrate that it had implemented sufficient remedial measures.
In December 2019, the Division closed its investigation, recognizing the completed, ongoing, and planned improvements to the Orange County Jail in its closure letter.
Smith, Jonathan Mark (District of Columbia)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:33 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: California
Closing Date: Dec. 17, 2019
Case Ongoing: No
U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: None Yet / None
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Type of Facility: