Ga. officials urge DOJ action on Fulton County Jail
The letter asks that the DOJ “devote any resources necessary to protect the rights of individuals in confinement” into the Fulton Jail and correctional institutions nationwide
By Jozsef Papp
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and U.S. Nikema Williams want the Department of Justice to prioritize its investigation into the Fulton County Jail, they said in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The letter, sent Thursday, asks that the DOJ “devote any resources necessary to protect the rights of individuals in confinement” and for “a briefing on the status of DOJ’s investigation” into the Fulton Jail and correctional institutions nationwide.
The letter comes just weeks after the latest death at the troubled facility. Michael Anthony Holland, 36, was discovered unresponsive in his cell during an early morning security round on Jan. 10, marking the first death at the jail in 2024. There were 10 deaths in the custody of the sheriff’s office in 2023.
Between 2009 and October 2022, more than 60 Fulton detainees died, the highest total for any jail in Georgia during that time, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. DOJ launched a civil rights investigation of conditions at the jail on July 13, 2023, citing the September 2022 death of Lashawn Thompson. Thompson was found in his cell covered with bedbugs.
Since the investigation was launched, there have been at least seven deaths at the facility, including four in August 2023.
When the investigation was announced, DOJ officials said they had found credible allegations that the jail is “structurally unsafe, that prevalent violence has resulted in serious injuries and homicides, and that officers are being prosecuted for using excessive force.” The investigation also focused on medical and mental health care at the jail, as well as whether the Fulton Sheriff’s Office is discriminating against people with psychiatric disabilities.
A Georgia Senate panel was put together in October to look into overcrowding, case backlog and dangerous conditions at the jail.
In a recent hearing before a state senate committee, the sheriff’s general counsel, Amelia Joiner, said overcrowding strains the physical limits of the aging facility and contributes to violence. In the first 10 months of 2023, the jail recorded 293 stabbings, 337 fights, 922 assaults and more than 1,186 confiscated shanks, she said.
The sheriff’s office has had some success in reducing chronic overcrowding by moving inmates to other facilities across the state and reviewing cases eligible for lower bonds, the AJC reported. According to the sheriff’s office data, the Rice Street jail has a capacity of 2,254 inmates and is currently holding 1,778. Over the summer, the number had reached 2,700.
Sheriff Patrick Labat has consistently backed a proposal to build a new county jail, which is estimated to cost more than $1.7 billion. The Fulton County Commission formally directed county staff to explore planning and financing options for a new facility. If the county moves forward with the plan, the new jail would not open until 2029.