Nov 15, 2023 - News

Fulton County abolishes inmate welfare fund after misuse scandal

Fulton County jail sign

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Fulton County commissioners have abolished the county's jail inmate welfare fund after the discovery that millions of dollars were misused.

Why it matters: The decision comes after a list of its expenditures dating to 2021 revealed improper purchases of gift cards for staff, sheriff's office vehicles, employee lunches, face painting and photo booths at employee events and DJs at community outreach initiatives.

  • The Sheriff's Office was supposed to use it to buy items that directly benefit detainees, such as mattresses, blankets and various toiletries.

Driving the news: Commissioners voted 4–3 Wednesday to approve a resolution closing the fund — which is generated by jail detainees' commissary purchases and phone fees — and redirecting the money to the county's general fund.

Zoom in: Sheriff Pat Labat, who shared the expenditures at the request of the commission, said some had been assigned to the wrong fund.

  • Once that was discovered, he said, he fired the personnel responsible and updated the agency's policies and procedures.

Of note: Sheriffs, like tax commissioners and probate judges, are constitutional positions and do not fall under the control of county commissions — but commissioners do set those offices' budgets.

The intrigue: Clint Mueller, director of governmental affairs for the Association County Commissions of Georgia, told Axios that once those budgets are set, commissioners "can't get into the weeds" and tell the sheriff how that money should be spent.

  • Yes, but: The only exception is if revenue generated depends on the existence of county-owned facilities like Fulton's jail, according to the association's handbook.

What they're saying: Michael Collins, senior director of government affairs at Color of Change, a national racial justice and human rights organization, said commissioners are "beginning to take a more serious sense of responsibility for the sheriff's actions."

  • "We need more oversight and transparency from them with the sheriff, so hopefully this is the start."

The other side: At Wednesday's meeting, members of Labat's command staff asked commissioners to table the request so they could work with the county to come up with a better process.

  • "We still need that agility and flexibility to ensure we can get adequate health and safety items for these inmates," interim chief jailer Col. Curtis Clark said.
  • "I'm not opposed to change, but what I read into today's legislation just troubles me," he said.

The Sheriff's Office said in a statement that it was "disappointed" that the fund was abolished, and Labat said the agency will "continue to move forward in the best interest of the inmates in our care and our community."


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