Fulton County commissioners appropriated $440,000 Wednesday to get mentally ill women out of their jail cells and make other improvements at a jail annex in Union City.
The money will pay for four new employees through the jail’s health care provider, NaphCare, and the appropriation was made in response to a federal judge’s ruling that 30 to 40 mentally ill inmates must be allowed to leave their cells four hours a day, at least five days a week.
In issuing a July 23 preliminary injunction against the county, U.S. District Court Judge Billy Ray called conditions at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail “repulsive,” and said the situation needed to be remedied immediately. He gave the county 30 days to come up with a plan.
Alton Adams, Fulton’s deputy chief operating officer in charge of public safety, said three of the new employees will be responsible for managing the daily care and out-of-cell curriculum for inmates, while one will be tasked with providing post-release treatment to reduce recidivism.
“I think it’s going to make a big difference for the women who need the support the most,” Adams said. “It’s aimed squarely at allowing the individuals to have time out of the cells.”
Additionally, Adams said the county is adding benches and exercise equipment to the jail’s outdoor area, and fixing the heating and air conditioning system and other areas that need work.
“This will address the majority of what was asked for in the injunction,” Adams said. “We will have the plan when it’s due.”
In addition to more time out of their cells, Ray ordered the county to help the women maintain their hygiene, allow them to live in a clean and safe environment, and give them access to out-of-cell group activities.
“The extreme and extended isolation imposed on women at the jail and the appalling conditions there have long been a recipe for disaster,” Sarah Geraghty, an attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said in July after the hearing. “This order is probably going to save someone’s life.”
Geraghty was not available to comment Wednesday. She said previously that the jail’s practice has been to let the women leave their cells for no more than one hour a day, and many didn’t venture outside or shower for weeks at a time.
The county also continues to grapple with overcrowding at its main jail on Rice Street. Adams said there were 196 inmates who did not have beds as of Wednesday, a number that has remained steady in recent weeks. The county agreed to send some inmates to Gwinnett County, but Adams said no one has been transferred yet because Gwinnett has not signed the agreement.
Other agreements, with Douglas and Forsyth counties, are unlikely.
“We’re not counting on them,” Adams said. “We’re using all other avenues we have available to get inmates off the floor.”
Those include efforts to better manage transfers and to release people on bail more quickly. The issues at the jail come four years after a federal judge lifted an order keeping the court under federal oversight.
“There is no silver bullet,” Adams said.
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