Judge summons Fulton sheriff, chairman over county jail troubles

‘Fulton County Jail, at this juncture, is an unsafe facility for inmates and staff’


Fulton County has come under fire once again over unsafe conditions at its troubled jail.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash has ordered Fulton Sheriff Ted Jackson and Commission Chairman John Eaves to appear in court and explain why the Rice Street jail remains overcrowded, understaffed, and equipped with faulty locks.

“Fulton County Jail, at this juncture, is an unsafe facility for inmates and staff,” reads the latest court-ordered jail inspection.

Earlier this week, Thrash wrote to the county officials and ordered a show-cause hearing to be scheduled in the near future. His court monitors the jail’s conditions under a 2006 consent order that requires the facility to keep its population below 2,500 and fully man all its posts.

Thrash called for the Fulton officials to meet in his court after attorneys for the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a document in October asking him to do so.

“Conditions are dangerous for all of the people who are currently incarcerated in the jail, and it can’t wait for the defendants to ameliorate things months from now,” SCHR attorney Melanie Velez told WABE. “It needs to happen today.”

Eaves issued a statement defending the county’s actions. He said “hundreds of millions of dollars” were already spent on food, medical treatment, dental care, and mental health services for inmates since the consent order. Last June, the county’s commissioners approved $4.7 million in cash to purchase new locks to replace some of the jail’s faulty locks, some of which were first installed during the facility’s construction in 1985.

“I look forward to having an opportunity in court to directly address the allegations raised by the plaintiffs,” Eaves said in a written statement.

According to the jail’s latest inspection, Rice Street inmates have slept on the facility’s floors while officer and supervisor posts are only partially covered. The county’s locks are currently being replaced, but won’t be finished until April or May.

Attorneys for Sheriff Ted Jackson argue that the county commission is failing to appropriate the funds he needs to hire staff or handle inmate overflow. Meanwhile, Fulton lawyers say that the jail has more authorized positions than the consent order requires. They also claim that the county shouldn’t be liable for overcrowding or for locks that inmates have damaged themselves.

Judge Thrash demurs: “Contrary to the Fulton County Defendants’ argument, the Consent Order’s provisions regarding the population cap and inmates sleeping on the floor clearly apply to both them and the Sheriff.”

While the hearing’s date has yet to be scheduled, a status conference is slated for December 8.