Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson.

Fulton County residents consider Ted Jackson, Ben Cowart for sheriff

Ted Jackson says he brought respect back to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, and he hopes voters will remember that when they go to the polls Tuesday to choose between him and a challenger who promises to cut costs and streamline bureaucracy.

Jackson, a Democrat who was first elected sheriff in 2009, is facing Republican Ben Cowart for the post.

Jackson said he worked hard to make sure control of the county jail was returned to the county after years of federal oversight because of an array of problems such as overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

He said he also made much-needed improvements to security at the courthouse after defendant Brian Nichols escaped a holding cell and went on a killing spree that left four dead in 2005.

That work has changed the attitude of employees and the community, he said.

“When I took over, we had an image problem, a lack of respect,” Jackson said. “Over an eight-year period, we’ve turned all that around.”

Jackson has created and expanded services at the jail, such as a program that allows inmates to train dogs that are about to be euthanized, in order to better the animals’ chance for adoption. Participation has reduced recidivism, Jackson said.

He said he’s also working with others in the community to find help for people with mental or behavioral problems, so they don’t wind up in jail. Additionally, Jackson said, he is working to create a support structure to help inmates acclimate to life after they are released, in an effort to keep them from being arrested again.

“We teach them skills,” Jackson said. “We do a little bit, but not enough. We need to do more, so they don’t get caught up in the system.”

Cowart, the challenger, has the support of Richard Lankford, who was sheriff in Fulton County in the 1980s and who was defeated by Jackson in the primary.

Cowart did not respond to calls and other attempts to reach him over several days. On his campaign website, he says he is wants to speed up the trial process and reduce the number of people in the jail.

“If we need room, then find an alternative to incarceration for those who are not violent,” his website says. “If that doesn’t work, then we’re going to need to add onto the jail.”

Cowart said he is running “to make a difference in my hometown.” As sheriff, he wrote, he would cut costs and streamline the county’s bureaucracy.

Cowart’s website says he has been a builder and founded a company that bought and refurbished used military vehicles. His Facebook page says he has been a reserve officer in Fulton County, as well as in Gwinnett County, Norcross and Lawrenceville.

But Jackson, a retired FBI agent, says he opponent lacks experience.

“We need to build on what we’ve done,” Jackson said. “Everything we’ve built over the last eight years would be destroyed by someone with no experience.”

ELECTION 2016: What's on the ballot in Atlanta on Nov. 8?

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