A corrections officer looks in a jail cell during a tour of the Fulton County Jail on Monday, December 9, 2019, in Atlanta. (Elijah Nouvelage/Special to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Judge denies indigent Fulton jail inmates bid for release

A judge has denied a habeas corpus petition filed by 183 indigent offenders being held at the Fulton County Jail. 

The petition cited the health risk posed by COVID-19 in a facility that Fulton’s chief jailer, Mark Adger, acknowledged in testimony was significantly overcrowded.

A majority of the petitioners have bonds of less than $10,000, meaning they would be released if able to post a bail of no more than $1,000. All were eligible for early release on consent bonds — a promise to appear at their next court hearing.

RELATED: Georgia jails and prison remain crowded as COVID-19 spreads

In her ruling, Fulton Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson said the petitioners were not unlawfully discriminated against because of their incomes.

She wrote there was no evidence of “overarching practice or policy on behalf of the Fulton County Bench that would even remotely constitute a blanket refusal to consider bond modifications in light of COVID-19 or amount to categorical discrimination against defendants who have been granted cash bonds but remain in jail.”

Richardson also disputed the petitioners’ claim that conditions inside the Fulton jail constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The judge found no “deliberate indifference” by jail officials to health concerns raised by the spread of the coronavirus.

The jail currently holds around 2,150 inmates, about 750 more than it was built to handle. Roughly 100 inmates are housed in so-called “boats” — oversized inflatable devices situated in barely shielded common areas.

Fulton sheriff spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said, as of Friday, the jail has just four active cases of COVID-19.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve had 28 positives. Twenty four have recovered and/or been released,” she said.

Altogether 90 inmates have been tested, Flanagan said. 

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