The Fulton County Jail remains a source of praise and concern, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on who you ask.
“For eight weeks, we had no (inmates) being treated” for the virus, said Alton Adams, the county’s deputy chief operating officer for public safety. “Today we have 36 individuals in quarantine for (testing positive for) COVID. We expect individuals to come into quarantine and move out of quarantine. This does represent a high-water mark for us.”
Adams, other officials and residents spoke about the jail at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 5 meeting, which was held virtually due to the outbreak.
In an email later that day in response to the Neighbor’s request for clarification on that data, Tracy Flanagan, spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s office, which manages the jail, provided updated numbers. She said only 29 inmates had still tested positive for the virus, and all are in isolation.
“We are awaiting test results for two patients,” Flanagan said.
In the past month, Adams said, the jail has jumped from 2,436 inmates to 2,505.
“One of the issues we’re dealing with (on) COVID is keeping the jail population down as much as possible,” he said.
Col. Mark Adger, the chief jailer, added, “Not only are (prisoners) being quarantined and those quarantined are those suspected positive and then those isolated are the ones that have tested positive. … If the jail population continues to increase or the number of COVID cases continues to increase, that will be problematic.”
Adams said since July 27, because of the number of inmates testing positive for the virus, none of the jail’s prisoners have been transported to the Fulton courthouse or Georgia Department of Corrections “due to an abundance of caution.” The county has been holding virtual hearings in part to accommodate the inmates’ situation.
The meeting came one day after the sheriff’s office announced the jail received full accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, meaning it is 100% compliant with all applicable standards.
The 39 standards cover the full gamut of inmate health care, indicating the jail is meeting the highest standards in health care for inmates. Assessors from the national commission gave the jail a complete on-site review Feb. 24 through 27.
“We were able to show that we take healthcare here at the Fulton County Jail very serious,” Adger said.
Also, in 2016 a federal judge restored control of the jail to the county after it made a series of reforms to address overcrowding and other issues brought on by a lawsuit filed by an inmate there that resulted in a consent decree monitoring the facility for 11 years.
But earlier in the meeting and at previous ones, residents complained about the jail’s conditions with issues ranging from food to technology.
“I’m representing the victims of the system and addressing two or three items with the Fulton County Jail,” Regina Waller said. “The first is about book access for the inmates and creating a contract with the libraries where we can save money and not go through Amazon. Maybe they can rent them out because paying through Amazon is too expensive.
“The tablets (provided) by Securus have had problems. The inmates pay $11 a month, and they tell the jail hose tablets are not working but they aren’t fixed. The last thing is I would like to see a dialogue with an oversight committee since oversight does not exist. We could have citizens put together a list to complaints because those are not being addressed right now.”
Sheila Michael added the jail “lacks transparency.”
“It exploits inmates who are mostly African Americans and minorities,” she said. “Securus is owned by a billionaire named Tom Gores. … These inmate calls (cost) 18 cents a minute but should be 5 cents a minute or free. (Also), daily fruits and vegetables are not served and inmates are put on cholesterol medicine that they weren’t put on before they came to the jail.”