Fulton County can send some inmates from its overcrowded jails to Gwinnett County, but Fulton’s chief jailer said the number agreed to will have “little to none effect” on the problem.
Gwinnett has agreed to take 50 inmates, Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said. But Wednesday, the Fulton jails had 3,128 people — 80 more inmates than they were designed for — and the main Rice Street jail, with 2,696 people, is 105 people over capacity.
“At some point, we have to weigh how much it’s worth to house 25 or 30 inmates at a time,” said Col. Mark Adger, the chief jailer.
Gwinnett will charge $68 per person per day to take the inmates, a cost that could run $1.2 million a year if extended long-term. Adger estimated it could cost another $50,000 a month in deputy overtime to transport inmates from Fulton to Gwinnett or elsewhere.
Fulton authorities are talking with Forsyth and Douglas counties about moving inmates there, as well.
The cost to house an inmate in Fulton County is $84.28 a day. County commissioners set an initial $500,000 limit on the cost of housing inmates at neighboring jails. “I don’t think I just want to give an open checkbook,” Commissioner Natalie Hall said. “It looks bad.”
Alton Adams, Fulton’s deputy chief operating officer in charge of public safety, said ideally, the county would have 250 beds available for use. That, Adger said, “would make a difference.”
“Our situation at the Fulton County jail is very critical at this time,” he said. “We’ve not had a population this high in over 10 years.”
Commissioners also agreed to hire an expediter who will review the jail roster, categorize inmates and outline steps to quickly move them through the judicial system. The job will last as long as six months and cost as much as $100,000.
County attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker urged commissioners to act fast. “The situation is so dire that we need to do something in a hurry,” she said.
Three weeks ago, Perkins-Hooker called the overcrowding “a critical situation” likely to get worse. Since then, the number of inmates has stayed above the jails’ capacity. Until 2015 the county had been under a consent decree for 11 years, limiting how many people it could hold in its jails, following a federal lawsuit.
Since 2016, the county has spent millions of dollars to reduce the population at the Rice Street facility, but the number of inmates has remained stubbornly high this year. The average daily population for the system has been above 2,800 since at least January. The county’s goal was to reduce the population below 2,000 as a result of increased spending on programs that divert people from jail or move cases through the system more quickly.
County leaders said Atlanta’s city jail closing has contributed to the increase in county inmates. Statistics from the Fulton sheriff’s office show Atlanta inmates make up about a third of the jail population. Adger said previously that more people from the city were being held without bond at the county jail on failure-to-appear warrants after missing their original court dates, after the city eliminated cash bond requirements for poor and nonviolent offenders earlier this year.
Additionally, a spike in crime in areas like Buckhead increased public pressure to hold criminals instead of granting them bond, county manager Dick Anderson said last month.
Pitts has broached the idea of building a bigger jail, calling the overcrowding “an extremely serious problem.” The resolution for funding for the expediter position says the high jail population causes “an immediate safety concern for inmates and staff.”
“There is a problem we’re trying to solve, and solve aggressively,” Pitts said. “It’s an emergency, period.”
It’s not the only issue at the jails. In April, the Georgia Advocacy Office filed a suit regarding conditions at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail in Union City, which houses female inmates. The suit said mentally ill inmates were being denied necessary health care and were being held in unsanitary conditions.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.