Fulton County Jail Faces More Trouble; Labat Needs $1 Billion

The Fulton County Jail continues to deal with the issue of overcrowding, even though jail officials believed a plan to move prisoners to other facilities for incarceration would alleviate the problem.

“It’s about safety first and foremost,” Sheriff Pat Labat said of the plan to ease overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail, last week after 400 prisoners were moved from the severely dilapidated and dangerously overcrowded facility to the City of Atlanta City Detention Center along with facilities in Cobb and Forsythe counties.

But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has ruled against moving more than 1,000 prisoners out of state to prisons in Mississippi said Georgia law prohibits the move and only allows transfers due to unsafe conditions to the “nearest county” with a secure jail.

In addition to the overcrowding issues which are in large part due to the extreme lack of processing for inmates and cases, Labat is also requesting $1 billion dollar for the construction of a new jail and another $1 million to keep the ankle monitor program going through the end of the year.

According to public records 1,232 people housed at the jail have not yet had their day in court, with too many waiting a year or even a decade behind bars – for their cases to go to court

According to records obtained from the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk in August, at least 1,232 people inside the jail have not been indicted. About 60 of them have been waiting more than a year.

They are individuals not formally charged with felonies, waiting for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office to take the case to a grand jury to determine charges, while they sit behind bars.

The facility has been at the center of an outpouring of concerns regarding concerns about the health and well-being of people being housed at the facility, Even with the current reduction in the jail’s population at 1,125 remaining prisoners the Rice Street facility is at twice it’s housing capacity.

At a meeting in September, Labat had inmates tell commissioners just how bad conditions are at the jail to explain why he needed around $30 million in funding for the move.

“The walls are crumbling down and inmates are creating shanks out of the wall. So, you can go inside of the wall and get you a knife. You can go into your light and fix yourself up something to stab somebody next to you,” the inmate explained.

Plans to reduce the jail’s population by 1,000 inmates include moving hundreds of those incarcerated to the Atlanta City Jail as well as facilities in South Georgia and Mississippi. However, opponents of the controversial move filed an amended emergency petition on Monday in Fulton County Superior Court in hopes of preventing Sheriff Pat Labat from shipping hundreds of detainees out of state.

The horror stories emanating from detainees and visitors to the Rice Street facility continue to surface amid a string of inmate deaths. In a five-week span, there have been a reported six deaths – the last being a 24-year-old inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell on Aug. 31.

Following the nationally publicized death of an inmate, LaShawn Thompson, who was apparently eaten alive by bed bugs, legislators and civic organizations have lobbied to improve conditions at the jail and reduce the number of people in detention. 

A number of local officials have repeatedly called for an investigation into the jails conditions and several have recommended closing the facility altogether due to inhumane treatment of inmates housed there, many of who have not been convicted of any crime.

Last week, a coalition of civic groups and advocacy organizations sent a letter to Fulton County executives, Atlanta officials, Sheriff Patrick “Pat” Labat, and chief judges about the jail’s horrid conditions.

The letter reiterated the group’s opposition to Sheriff Labatt’s request for an additional $27 million dollars to keep the jail running without any accountability for addressing the systemic issues.

To date, the advocacy organizations have not received a response to the demands included in the letter.

The American Civil Liberties Union suggested officials explore reducing the jail population through alternatives such as pre-arrest diversion programs for people experiencing poverty, mental health concerns, and substance use.



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