Jan 20, 2022 - News

Agreement calls on sheriff to improve South Fulton jail conditions

Photo of a jail fence with barbed wire.
Photo courtesy ferencziviktoria21/Getty Images

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is poised to accept a settlement agreement that would require it to improve conditions at one of its jails.

Why it matters: The preliminary settlement comes nearly three years after a federal lawsuit alleged detainees at the county's South Annex Jail were being held in solitary confinement in cells littered with urine, feces and toilet water.

The agreement says the Sheriff's Office must give detainees at least four hours they can spend outside their cells five days a week; opportunities to participate in activities; and access to clean drinking water, reading materials, personal hygiene items, clothes and underwear.

  • A process has to be implemented to ensure detainees aren’t served moldy or spoiled food.
  • Staff members also have to be trained on how to supervise people who live with mental illnesses.

What they’re saying: Devon Orland, litigation director for the Georgia Advocacy Office, which filed a lawsuit along with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said in a press release that the organization is glad to see Sheriff Pat Labat take “responsibility for ensuring that people within the South Fulton Jail are allowed out of their cells and are provided treatment.”

  • Atteeyah Hollie, managing attorney for impact litigation at the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the agreement will help improve the lives of detainees with mental illnesses, but excessive incarceration is “at the heart of the issues plaguing the jail.”
  • “To avoid needless suffering, we must combat our impulse to charge and jail the mentally ill,” she said.

Sheriff Pat Labat, who took office in 2021, said in a statement that his office is committed to "going above and beyond to treat detainees with a level of care approaching best practices in the industry."

  • “We continue the important work of improving jail conditions, working closely with experts in the field of mental health, and correctional services," he said. "Through this work, conditions for mentally ill detainees at the South Annex have improved dramatically since this litigation began."

Flashback: The April 2019 lawsuit was originally filed against former Sheriff Ted Jackson and four other defendants on behalf of women who were held in squalid conditions for nearly 24 hours a day at the jail in Union City.

The jail houses more than 200 detainees, most of whom are women, who are being prosecuted in Fulton County, the lawsuit states.

  • Tours of the jail found women lying on the floor with food or feces on their bodies or cell walls, trash littered throughout jail cells, urine on the floors and broken toilets.
  • A 20-year-old woman who lived with mental illness and couldn’t pay her bond was locked inside her cell for more than 23 hours a day for about a year.
  • Another detainee with a mental illness who spent months in solitary confinement died after she swallowed a plastic utensil.

A preliminary injunction signed by a judge in July 2019 ordered the Sheriff’s Office to immediately begin addressing issues at the jail.

A fairness hearing will be held at 3pm on March 16 where a judge will hear objections or comments about the settlement made by detainees represented in the class and give final approval to the agreement.

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