Fulton sheriff calls Atlanta’s request for jail study ‘a stall tactic’

Monday’s Atlanta City Council meeting became heated after Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat urged them to act faster on plans to use Atlanta’s detention center to address overcrowding at Fulton’s jail.

Labat and Mayor Andre Dickens recently agreed to lease 700 beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center to Fulton, which is something Labat has sought after since he was sworn in last year. But when the council approved Atlanta’s side of the lease, the legislation included a last-minute amendment requiring the Justice Policy Board to analyze Fulton’s jail population.

The study would also gather data showing why detainees are booked, the amount of time inmates are held there, and more. Although the study’s outcome won’t terminate the lease agreement, the lease can’t take effect until the review is complete.

Labat said the county can give them the information they’re seeking without the 90-day study, which he called “a stall tactic.”

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

“The building is deteriorating by the day,” Labat said. “I’ve been sounding this alarm for 365 days if not longer.”

Labat initiated the conversation with a 10-minute plea during the meeting’s public comment period. Some of the residents present used their time to support Labat’s push for the detention center.

But the topic also created heated debate among the city lawmakers. City Councilman Michael Julian Bond said the city needs to act because 473 people are sleeping on the county jail’s floor. Atlanta City Councilman Jason Dozier, who created the amendment, said residents have sought Fulton’s jail data for a long time.

“We need to understand why people are in there and I will not in the blink of an eye damn people’s lives to be in jail without questioning it,” said Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

More than 60 national and local civil rights organizations on Monday sent a letter to Dickens and the council asking the city to revoke its lease decision with Fulton. Tiffany Roberts, public policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights, told the council that Atlanta would be surrendering what little power they have left over the jail if the study requirement is removed.

“Fulton County is not acting in good faith and you should ask yourselves why,” Roberts said. “You have an opportunity now to mitigated the harm this is causing.”

Bond introduced an ordinance to remove the agreement’s study clause, but his proposal’s fate is uncertain given tensions on council. City Councilmember Keisha Sean Waites, for instance, has said that attempts to remove the study amendment would violate the city and the county’s agreement.

“There are many things that we want to agree on,” Waites said. “This is just not one of them today.”