Fulton commissioners OK jail contract, field big asks from sheriff

Fulton County commissioners on Wednesday quietly approved a $27 million contract with the firm that provides medical care at the jail — but has a lot more to consider.

The contract with NaphCare — despite the firm receiving less-than-stellar reviews — was approved without substantive discussion. Though about a tenth of the contract, what took hours was Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat telling commissioners that he is in crisis and needs money.

Labat, flanked by roughly 100 deputies and several K-9s, explained that he needed $6.2 million to address costs from overtime and inflation. Commissioners ultimately approved about half that amount to cover those costs through the year. The sheriff had more asks that commissioners said they would address at their next meeting.

“It’s a great start,” Labat told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Labat on Wednesday gave an “Academy Award presentation,” said Fulton Chair Robb Pitts from the dais. Pitts was alone in voting against the payout, saying they needed more time to digest Labat’s nearly three-hour exhibition.

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Except for the K-9 dogs barking and growling at people, the intense scene stayed cordial. Once calmed down, the dogs started the show. From there, Labat broke down every single thing his department does — from how many warrants his staff have served to how many shanks they’ve found from jail cell shakedowns.

Instead of just telling them how much jail contraband his staff have found, Labat had his employees push wheelbarrows filled with shanks and cellphones and other illicit items in front of the dais.

Inmates fashioned the weapons from parts of the 33-year-old building that is failing in part because it is over-crowded to the point that some 430 inmates sleep on the ground every night, he said. That speaks to Labat’s loudest and most consistent request: To build a new jail he estimates will cost between $400 and $500 million.

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Commissioners in January approved a $1.2 million study reviewing the prospect of a new jail. Officials have maintained that the study would be done by the end of the year.

After commissioners went into their closed-door executive session, Labat spoke to the crowd of his employees and said that the agency would be safe as long as they could tell their own story.

“This isn’t about me,” he told the congregation of employees.