Court-appointed panel to monitor Los Angeles county jails

Inmates attend a life skills class at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles, California October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

(Reuters) - A court-appointed panel will begin to oversee the Los Angeles County jail system, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday, as part of a settlement to a 2012 class-action lawsuit that alleged sheriff's deputies beat inmates.

The agreement requires the sheriff's department to adopt an action plan to drawn up by the three-person panel, aimed at reforming its use-of-force policy and give further training to its jail deputies, the civil rights group said.

"For decades, the sheriff's department has run the jail without any accountability or transparency," Peter Eliasberg, legal director of ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement.

"This agreement addresses those problems by establishing clear policies and practices the department must implement."

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he supported the settlement and that his office had already undertaken numerous reforms.

"I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes," McDonnell said in an emailed statement.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the agreement was approved by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The news comes a week after a plan to create a separate civilian oversight panel for the troubled department was approved by county leaders.

That measure was a bid to tackle thorny issues facing the jail system, the nation's largest, such as allegations of excessive force and poor management.

Debate over policing practices has grown amid nationwide protests in recent weeks following a New York grand jury's failure to indict a police officer earlier this month in the chokehold death of an unarmed man.

That decision was reached shortly after a grand jury in St. Louis, Missouri declined to criminally charge an officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is edging closer to a federal consent decree for court oversight of its jail system, after the U.S. Department of Justice found the treatment of mentally ill inmates violated their constitutional rights.

A separate federal probe into prisoner abuse and other misconduct in the jail system led to the conviction of several current and former sheriff's deputies for trying to block the investigation.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Crispian Balmer)