My office isn’t to blame for bad jail conditions, Fulton sheriff says
‘Georgia’s Gitmo’ is an exclusive, in-depth examination of the Fulton County Jail.
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said he knew, when he ran for office, “the system was broken. I just didn’t know how broken.”
Labat has been in office since January 2021. “We inherited this system, and it is one that allows people to languish in jail, waiting for the opportunity to either get the mental health help they need or have their competency restored.”
Labat said when the jail was built in 1989, it was never intended to detain people for years at a time. At one point, it detained 3,600 people, more than twice the capacity. Most of the inmates are charged with violent felonies, while 187 were in jail on misdemeanor charges as of late summer.
Labat said his office is caught between the district attorney’s office and judges, waiting for them to move cases along, while his jail and detainees suffer the consequences. So far this year, 10 detainees have died before they had an opportunity to have their cases heard before a judge or jury. Their causes of death range from stabbings, alleged medical neglect and some still undetermined.
In July, the U.S Department of Justice announced it launched a civil investigation into the conditions of the jail. According to a press release, the federal government will “examine living conditions, medical and mental health care, use of excessive force, and protection from violence.”
Later this week, a Georgia senate subcommittee announced it will hold a hearing to investigate issues at the jail and to search for possible solutions.
To alleviate overcrowding, the sheriff has transferred hundreds of inmates to neighboring counties. He’s also suggested moving some out of state as far away as Mississippi, against the objection from defense attorneys. Labat even wrote a letter to each of Georgia’s 158 sheriffs, asking if any of them had beds available.
But these actions are a band-aid to the problem, Labat said. The court’s ability to clear the case backlog and sustain it is out of his control. He’s calling to build a new, bigger facility focused on mental health services, which could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion.
“There’s enough blame to go around,” Labat said. “I can tell you who is not to blame: the sheriff’s office.”
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