Activists speaking out against plan to move Fulton County Jail inmates

Activists are calling on Fulton County commissioners to reject the sheriff's plan to move nearly 1,000 inmates to south Georgia and Mississippi to address the crisis at the county jail.

Sheriff Pat Labat says the move could ease overcrowding and allow him to fix deteriorating conditions at the jail.

"It's about safety first and foremost," he insisted.

At a meeting in September, Labat had inmates tell commissioners just how bad conditions are at the jail to explain why he needed around $30 million in funding for the move.

"The walls are crumbling down and inmates are creating shanks out of the wall. So, you can go inside of the wall and get you a knife. You can go into your light and fix yourself up something to stab somebody next to you," the inmate explained.

But some local activists don't agree with Labat's plan, and they plan on asking Fulton commissioners to say no to shifting inmates from the embattled Rice Street jail to the D. Ray James Correctional Facility in south Georgia - a facility that is a five-hour drive from Atlanta and can hold 1,900 inmates. The commission is also considering moving inmates to a correctional facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi.

"They'll be over there without attorneys, Marilyn Primovic, a member of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit Public Defender Council, told commissioners at the same meeting. "We'll be attorneys in name but not, actually. We need to see them and have face-to-face conversations with them."

Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chair Robb Pitts told FOX 5 he thinks it would be a better and more cost-effective offer to send more inmates to the Atlanta City Detention Center.

According to their previous agreement, Fulton County could transfer up to 700 inmates from their jail to the ACDC, but only those inmates who meet certain criteria.

"It just makes no sense to me to transfer 1,000 inmates to Mississippi or to south Georgia when we have the beds, the capacity, right here in Atlanta, Georgia," Pitts said.

So far, Mayor Andre Dickens says the city will only take an additional 248 inmates agreed upon in an earlier deal.

Fulton County Jail in crisis

The jail, which opened in 1989, held more than 3,200 people earlier this year — well above its capacity of roughly 2,700. 

Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts has turned to the Atlanta City Council for help battling the overcrowding that officials say is to blame for inmates living in inhumane conditions.

This year alone, 10 inmates have died at the jail. In a five-week span, there have been a reported six deaths - the last being a 24-year-old inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell on Aug. 31.

The Fulton County Jail remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal agency opened a civil rights investigation into conditions at the jail, with officials citing violence, filthy conditions and the death last year of Lashawn Thompson, whose body was found covered in insects. An independent autopsy done at his family’s request found he died from severe neglect. His family has since reached a settlement with the county.

Dayvion Blake, 23, was stabbed to death and four others were stabbed and injured during a fight at the jail on Aug. 31. Samuel Lawrence, 34, died Aug. 26 at Grady Memorial Hospital after he was found unresponsive in his cell at the jail. The other three people who died in the last month include 66-year-old Alexander Hawkins, 34-year-old Christopher Smith and 40-year-old Montay Stinson.

Fulton County inmates held for long periods of time on low-level offenses

"The majority of the people who have died in custody have been in custody for a significant amount of time and a lot of them on some particularly small charges," said Fallon McClure, deputy director for policy and advocacy for the Georgia ACLU.

McClure said while she is awaiting the outcome of the Department of Justice investigation into the jail, "all indications point to it being unconstitutional."

She said the problem is systemic and due largely to overcrowding at the jail, especially with people there who committed lower-level crimes who cannot afford their bonds, like Delmore.

"APD needs to use the pre-arrest diversion, the district attorney needs to indict people at 90 days, they can do cite and release on misdemeanors," McClure said.

One woman, who asked not to be identified, was held in the jail for three days last weekend on a low-level offense and says conditions haven't gotten better. She says some cells hold dozens of inmates.

She says female prisoners are held next to men, and some are denied food and water.

"Men are walking past while these women are using the bathroom, while these women are putting their clothes on," the woman said. "You don't feel comfortable in public because you fear if you do one thing, you're gonna end up back in that h---hole."

The county commissioners will hold their meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.