View Full Version : 3rd Teen Attempts Suicide at Men's Central Jail

07-04-2003, 10:06 PM
Each tries to take his life after being convicted as adult. Sheriff's officials tighten safety measures.

By Greg Krikorian, LA Times Staff Writer

Authorities have tightened safety measures at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles after the third teenager in a month attempted suicide in a wing that houses minors being tried as adults, an official said Thursday.

Sheriff's Capt. Ray Leyva, who oversees jail operations, said the suicide attempt occurred Monday and involved a 15-year-old boy who had just been convicted in a robbery and rape case that will send him to state prison for 45 years.

The youth, who was not immediately identified, was not injured in the suicide attempt, but was taken to a psychiatric unit at the Twin Towers jail before being transferred to a state prison in Tehachapi, Leyva said.

"What a tragedy," the sheriff's captain said of the years of imprisonment facing the teenager.

The juvenile module within the men's jail houses as many as 44 teenagers a day who are being tried as adults in Los Angeles County. The minors, unlike others facing adult charges in Los Angeles, have been deemed unfit to remain at a juvenile hall because they pose a danger to others or themselves, officials said.

Like the two previous suicide attempts in late May, the incident involved a teenager who tried to take his own life after being convicted of a crime, not while awaiting trial, Leyva said.

The suicide attempt was foiled, Leyva said, when deputies spotted the youth trying to tie one end of a bedsheet to the bars of his jail cell. The other end of the bedsheet was already around his neck, Leyva said.

Jailers have been instructed to immediately transfer minors convicted of crimes to cells that are directly opposite a security observation room. "Any time a kid returns to the jail after he's been convicted, I want to make sure they are always in sight of staff," Leyva said.

The new procedure comes only days before the county Board of Supervisors considers proposals to relocate the minors being held at the men's jail.

The board's deliberations were requested by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and follow increasing criticism of the jail conditions by local clergy, juvenile justice activists and others.

Yaroslavsky, a member of the California Board of Corrections, has asked county officials to talk with their counterparts at the state on alternative methods for jailing minors. Records show the county jailed twice as many minors in that fashion last year as the rest of California combined. The teens held in the county's high-security jail are confined to their cells for up to 23 1/2 hours a day, a practice jailers say is necessary to prevent fighting.

Groups including the Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization that investigates human rights abuses worldwide, have urged the county to find an alternative to the current practice. In a letter Thursday to Yaroslavsky, Michael Bochenek, counsel for the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch, said the group's ongoing investigation has so far turned up a number of issues. "In particular, we were disturbed by the length of time youths are locked in their cells, their limited access to education, and the extent to which their mental health needs are not met by the facility," Bochenek wrote.

Describing the daily confinement of minors to their cells as inhumane, Bochenek said: "It is difficult to imagine a valid security rationale for confining every youth to his cell for this extraordinary length of time under conditions that are more onerous than those usually imposed on all but the most dangerous and disruptive adult prisoners."