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Settlement Reached in Suit Over Failure to Keep Released L.A. County Prisoners from Becoming Homeless

by Scott Grammer

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by the federal government against Los Angeles County over how the county’s jail system cycles “people with mental illnesses and disabilities between its jails and streets.” According to a news release by the law firm of Munger, Tolles and Olson LLP, the December 6, 2018 settlement requires “new policies to prevent inmates with mental illness from being released without arrangements for managing their mental health. Under the new policies, release plans will be developed with participation from community-based providers who can offer services to the inmates upon their release. The jail will also notify the community-based providers of the inmates’ release dates and help facilitate continuation of care after their release.”

“Discharge planning is a critical step for incarcerated individuals with mental illness,” said Bradley S. Phillips, an attorney with the law firm. “A settlement like this demonstrates that the community can and should work together to provide adequate services for all residents. Real changes can be made to combat the jail-to-homelessness cycle.”

A settlement was originally proposed by Los Angeles County in 2016, but according to a group of intervenors who joined the suit, that settlement would have led to “pervasive ADA violations” because it “discriminate[d] against people with certain mental disabilities by limiting the class of individuals who are eligible for discharge planning to those who have a ‘serious mental illness’ as defined in the Settlement.... These arbitrary exclusions violate[d] the ADA’s prohibition on ‘[p]rovid[ing] different or separate ... services ... to any class of individuals with disabilities than is provided to others....’” 

The intervenors also claimed that the original proposed settlement’s discharge provisions would have “run afoul of the ADA because they den[ied] disabled persons meaningful access to public services and benefits in at least two ways,” and that “the Settlement violate[d] the integration mandate of the ADA to deliver ‘services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.’” Additionally, the intervenors alleged “the discharge provisions ... will lead to violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as the policies provided for in Paragraph 34 demonstrate a deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of Plaintiff-Intervenors and other incarcerated individuals with mental illness.”

According to the news release by Munger, Tolles and Olson, the final settlement requires Los Angeles County to ensure that mentally ill prisoners are “released with their first mental health appointment already scheduled and transportation to the appointment arranged. Those who require medication will be given a two-week supply upon their release as well.” Further, “The policy changes also include offering inmates help in obtaining California identification cards if they do not already have one. Lack of identification upon release can often be a barrier for patients to receive mental health services. In addition, they will receive assistance restarting suspended Social Security benefits or applying for new benefits.” 

In conjunction with the settlement, the district court ordered the county to pay $950,000 to the intervenors “to fully resolve any claims for attorney’s fees and costs.” See: United States v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:15-cv-05903-DDP-JEM. 


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Related legal case

United States v. County of Los Angeles