Georgia Senate to launch probe into Fulton jail’s dangerous conditions

The investigation could also scrutinize Fulton DA Fani Willis, who key Republicans have sought to punish
Ten people have died so far this year at Fulton County Jail, which will now be subjected to an investigation by a Georgia Senate subcommittee. (Hyosub Shin /



Ten people have died so far this year at Fulton County Jail, which will now be subjected to an investigation by a Georgia Senate subcommittee. (Hyosub Shin /

Georgia Senate leaders are set to launch an investigation into chronic overcrowding and dangerous conditions at the Fulton County Jail, the troubled Atlanta facility where 10 inmates have died so far this year.

The chamber’s top politicians have scheduled an announcement for Thursday to unveil a new subcommittee focused on investigating the jail. The panel expects to hold hearings as early as November, officials say, and could call on experts, local officials and judges to testify.

The effort will be helmed by Republican state Sens. John Albers, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, and Randy Robertson, a retired law enforcement official with experience managing a jail. Senate officials say they expect the subcommittee to include at least one Democratic member.

The announcement comes as some Senate Republicans seek to punish Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis for initiating a wide-ranging election interference investigation that led to an indictment against Donald Trump and 18 others.

The subcommittee is expected to scrutinize Willis’ use of resources and her strategy to tackle an enormous backlog of cases that worsened during the pandemic. But officials say she won’t be the singular focus of the investigation.

“We don’t know the root cause of the challenges, so anything would be premature at this point. We will follow the facts,” said Albers, who is tapping Robertson to head the subcommittee. “This issue is the conditions and deaths at the jail.”

Former President Donald Trump enters the Fulton County Jail in August to surrender on charges involving the county's election interference investigation. (Hyosub Shin /


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Still, some are eager to put Willis under the microscope given how deeply the election charges have roiled the Senate.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who will be at the announcement, could face criminal charges involving his role as a Republican elector. And state Sen. Shawn Still, a first-term Republican, was charged with taking part in the pro-Trump slate.

“The DA is required by Georgia law to have a grand jury inspect the sanitary condition of the jail and the treatment of inmates, and it isn’t clear she’s carried out that duty,” said state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, one of the chamber’s top Republicans. “She did find time and resources to pursue politically chosen cases when the jail has been deteriorating, resulting in deaths.”

Willis’ aides didn’t immediately comment on the Senate’s planned probe of the jail, but a development in the slow-moving “Young Slime Life” trial on Wednesday underscored the pushback she faces from some critics.

A potential juror in that trial was excused after blasting Willis’ office for the “ridiculous” Trump indictment and accused her of misusing public resources. The judge dismissed the juror before attorneys from either side of the counsel’s table could make a motion.

The jail, known to many Atlantans simply as “Rice Street,” drew national attention in August when Trump and his co-defendants surrendered one by one at the lockup, where they were processed and booked.

In Atlanta, however, the jail’s dilapidated conditions have long been a symbol of government failure.

More than 60 people who were held at the jail or other facilities operated or leased by Fulton County have died since 2009, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation.

And the U.S. Justice Department is also investigating conditions inside the jail, citing the Sept. 13 death of a homeless and mentally ill man in the lockup’s psychiatric wing.

Fulton Sheriff Pat Labat has been blunt about the jail’s disastrous conditions, calling it a “humanitarian crisis.” He’s talked about inmates crafting crumbling walls into makeshift weapons and “long-standing, dangerous overcrowding” as he’s called for a next-generation replacement facility.

But there’s been halting progress over a new 4,500-bed jail tentatively approved by Fulton County officials at an estimated cost of roughly $1.7 billion.

Albers said he hopes the subcommittee will offer an unflinching look at the problems plaguing the jail.

“I would like for everyone to look at this issue as it stands,” he said, “and not pull any unnecessary politics or opinions into the work ahead.”

Staff writer Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this article.

State Sen. John Albers will, in partnership with state Sen. Randy Robertson, head a subcommittee that will investigate conditions at the Fulton County Jail. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC