Fulton denies $23M COVID-19 jail isolation units amid protests

Fulton Commissioner Chairman Robb Pitts left an active Board of Commissioners meeting to speak with, according to a county spokesperson, roughly 40 people outside the county’s headquarters protesting against the proposal to spend $23 million to build a COVID-19 isolation unit at the Fulton jail. (Provided by Fulton County government)
Fulton Commissioner Chairman Robb Pitts left an active Board of Commissioners meeting to speak with, according to a county spokesperson, roughly 40 people outside the county’s headquarters protesting against the proposal to spend $23 million to build a COVID-19 isolation unit at the Fulton jail. (Provided by Fulton County government)

Fulton County leaders rejected a plan Wednesday to spend $23 million to build isolation units that would mitigate a possible second wave of COVID-19 in its jails.

Jail officials tried to convince commissioners that, although they’ve avoided an outbreak in the jail so far, the county needs to have a place to house people with the virus should cases skyrocket in the fall.

The project would have added 96 beds to the Rice Street jail for men; and 24 beds at the Union City jail for women by September.

Many commissioners said the plan was not a good enough return on the investment. The cost would have been a quarter of the $104 million in CARES Act money it received from the federal government. Fulton must spend the money by the end of the year.

BACKGROUND | Jail isolation unit, feeding kids: Fulton's $104M plan to fight COVID

Since the last board meeting, a swarm of activism has grabbed hold in many American cities, demanding police stop unjustifiably killing black people. Some protesters want to de-fund police departments and abolish what they see as an unfair jail and prison system.

Realizing a jail expansion item was up for a vote, social media posts encouraged people to protest by submitted public comments and showing up outside the county's headquarters at 141 Pryor St. at noon on Wednesday.

Chairman Robb Pitts, left during the board meeting he was leading, to speak with what a county spokeswoman said were about 40 protesters outside. He was joined by Commissioner Natalie Hall, the spokeswoman said.

State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta said during public comment that she wanted jail “policies that are as kind to Fulton families as possible.”

READ | Fulton staff to stay at home longer, library damaged in protest

The county jail has needed more space for a while. An inmate's handwritten complaint triggered 11 years of federal oversight at the jail, where there were complaints of overcrowding, raw sewage flooding cells and inmates left to wander because of faulty locks.

There are no definite plans for the previously earmarked $23 million, but Pitts said he sent a letter to the county manager on May 26 outlining possible other uses for the money — including $10 million for community support items like meals for seniors.

Commissioner Lee Morris was the sole vote against denying the expansion, saying that by the time they know there’s an outbreak it’ll be too late.

“If that second wave comes and hits the jail, you all will regret not having made plans for that,” Morris said.

Commissioner Joe Carn, who has been the most vocal opponent of the jail expansion, responded: “I think we’re going to be OK, we’ll figure out another way.”

Like North Fulton County News Now on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter

In Other News