Fulton County officials are doing what they can to address overcrowding at its jail, including possibly transporting some inmates to other counties’ detention centers.
“We’ve talked to several counties,” Fulton Deputy COO for Public Safety Alton Adams said. “The ones we’re actively talking to now are Forsyth and Douglas. (Some counties) have the beds but they don’t have the people, the police officers, to handle it.”
At its July 10 meeting at Assembly Hall in downtown Atlanta, the Fulton Board of Commissioners voted 6-0 to approve two measures and 5-0 (with District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. abstaining) to OK a third one, all to address overcrowding at the jail.
The moves come following a June 24 media report stating overcrowding there led to 180 inmates having to sleep on mattresses in frames on the floor in open areas. According to the report, Chief Jailer Mark Adger said the county’s jail population at its four facilities surpassed 3,000 on several days in mid-June.
The first measure authorized the board chair to execute memorandums of understanding with neighboring counties to temporarily house Fulton inmates elsewhere. At the meeting, Adger said the county already pays its sheriff’s deputies overtime, and will have to pay them more to arrive early and stay late to transport prisoners to other counties if that plan is approved.
“At some point we have got to weigh how much it’s worth to rehouse 25 or 30 inmates at a time,” he said.
Adams said he would like to move as many as 250 inmates to other counties’ facilities, adding the rates for the two counties they’re in talks with are $55 and $68 per day per prisoner, and it costs Fulton $84.28 to house inmates at the Rice Street jail.
But District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann asked Adams if those lower amounts included transportation costs, and he said no, so she said those added fees should be incorporated into the non-Fulton fees when comparing them to Fulton’s.
The second measure, to approve transferring monies from the county’s non-agency funding line to the Fulton sheriff’s office budget for those memorandums of understanding with other counties to house Fulton inmates elsewhere, was amended by District 4 Commissioner Natalie Hall, who said she wanted to cap those funds at $500,000 “so there’s not an open checkbook on the amount.”
The third measure, according to the agenda document, called for transferring funds to the Superior Court clerk “to address the emergency at the Fulton County Jail” and to exempt a former employee from a part of the county’s code of ethics that disqualifies ex-Fulton workers from being rehired by the county until at least a year after they left it.
“I’m willing to vote for this, reluctantly. … But I vote for this because it’s a clear emergency,” board Chair Robb Pitts said.
Pitts added the jail’s overcrowding could have to do with county judges possibly being too strict on some suspects, meaning more may be in jail awaiting trial longer than needed due to higher bonds, after they were criticized for allowing some repeat offenders to be released on signature or low bonds.
But he said the blame for Fulton’s broken justice system can be shared by three departments the board can only control in terms of their budgets.
“When jobs aren’t getting done, we have very little power to solve this problem, but there are three other entities that do: the judges, the DA (district attorney) and the sheriff,” Pitts said. “… I’m sick and tired of having this discussion every four or five years, and I guarantee in four or five years from now, we’ll have the same discussion. I guarantee there are at least 200 people in our jail who don’t belong there.”