A U.S. district judge is hearing arguments on Wednesday over what attorneys say are “abhorrent” conditions at Los Angeles County jails.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claim the county has failed to provide basic rights to inmates including sanitation and healthcare. They’re asking the judge to hold the county and the sheriff’s department in contempt of court and order sanctions.

The ACLU said people are supposed to be in the jail system’s inmate reception centers for less than 24 hours before being transferred but are instead being held in “abhorrent” conditions.

Judge Dean Pregerson heard arguments from attorneys representing the ACLU, National Prison Project, and the ACLU of Southern California on behalf of L.A. County inmates.

During visits to the inmate reception center, ACLU attorneys said they recorded unacceptable conditions including mentally ill inmates being “chained to chairs for days at a time.”

ACLU claims that despite an order for the sheriff’s department and county to improve conditions in the reception center, inmates are still suffering and denied the most basic level of sanitation and care.

  • Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department - Men's Central Jail
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department - Men's Central Jail (KTLA)

“When people get stuck in the inmate reception center for longer than 24 hours, they end up trying to sleep on the floor,” explained Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney with ACLU Southern California. “All they have to eat are peanut butter jelly sandwiches. They have no access to toothbrushes and showers. The county needs to fully fund alternatives to incarceration like the Office of Diversion and Reentry because right now, the jails are completely overcrowded and if somebody with mental illness comes into jail, there is literally no place for them to go.”

Attorneys for the defendants have admitted they are not in full compliance with the court’s injunction, but said they’ve made substantial progress. They claimed personnel and staffing issues contributed to the ongoing problems, but have since increased staffing.

The defendants also said they are working to move inmates out of the reception center before 24 hours, but face challenges including processing those with serious mental illness and issues with tracking inmates’ in and out times. They claim they are working on a process that will allow for better data collection.

A decision has not been made but the county is on full notice in preparation for another hearing in about 60 days.

Regarding cleanliness and sanitation, the judge told county attorneys that there is no excuse for subjecting people to unsanitary conditions.

The defendants said a sanitation plan will be presented at the next hearing and both the plaintiffs and the defendants were encouraged to call live witnesses.

KTLA has reached out to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors but has not received a comment on the matter.