Nov 2, 2023 - News

Judge: Fulton sheriff can't move detainees out of state

The Fulton County Jail. Photo: Alyssa Pointer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office is back to square one after a judge determined that state law prohibits detainees from being transported to facilities outside of Georgia to alleviate overcrowding.

Driving the news: Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled against Atlanta Judicial Circuit Public Defender Maurice Kenner, who petitioned the court to stop Sheriff Pat Labat from transporting detainees to out-of-state facilities.

Why it matters: The Fulton County Jail has reported 10 deaths in 2023 and is under a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

  • Labat, who has been lobbying the county to construct a new facility, has previously said the overcrowded conditions and failing infrastructure have contributed to the current crisis.
  • But, community activists say a larger facility isn't the answer, and detainees being unable to afford bond and not facing indictments for months contribute to the lack of space.

Catch up quick: The prospect of sending pre-trial detainees out of state came up during a presentation to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners in September.

What they're saying: The Public Defender's Office told Axios in a statement that it was pleased with the ruling, despite its petition being denied.

  • "We are proud to prevent the men, women, and children at the Fulton jail from being disappeared into a private prison in Mississippi," the office said. "We will not stop fighting for our clients, their safety, and their rights."

The other side: A Sheriff's Office spokesperson told Axios that it will continue to explore ways to reduce the jail population "by outsourcing inmates within the state."

  • "I am optimistic that we can move forward in true partnership between my office and the Public Defender's Office to provide effective service to the inmates in our custody regardless of where they are physically housed," said Sheriff Labat in a statement.

By the numbers: The agency said the Rice Street facility hit a "record-breaking low" this week, with its housing of 1,996 detainees.

  • Roughly 400 detainees have been moved to the Atlanta City Detention Center, and the Sheriff's Office continues to send others to jails in Cobb, Forsyth and Oconee counties.

The big picture: Michael Collins, senior director of state and local government affairs at Color of Change, a racial and social justice organization, said reducing overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail is "decarceration, not transfers and not a new $2 billion jail."

  • "The system is dangerously overcrowded, and decision-makers like Sheriff Labat continually depend on temporary quick fixes that compromise the humanity of those incarcerated in Atlanta," he said.
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