Grand jury launches surprise investigation into Fulton schools, jail


FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - The Fulton County grand jury made an unusual move Thursday. Jurors decided on their own to launch an investigation into Fulton County Schools and the Fulton County Jail.

The grand jurors were called for normal duty to issue indictments, but they looked in the handbook and found out they could also investigate any part of county government -- so they did and issued a report of recommendations.

From an architect, to a teacher, to a dishwasher -- the group was diverse and made up of citizens in Fulton County who said they were sick of the negative headlines about their government. They found no criminal wrongdoing.

"When we have these negative headlines, it is not good for anyone. It's not good for our community or the state," said grand jury foreman Gillen Young.

Along with their normal indictment duties as grand jurors during their two month empanelment they decided on their own to investigate, the Fulton County schools and the jail. It's a very unusual move, but allowed under Georgia law.

"We have the ability to investigate and ask questions," Young said.

For the schools, the group found no major problems and even applaud Fulton County superintendent.

The group spent many hours investigating the jail, including taking a tours.

"This is the first time that we have had a grand jury ask, I can ever recall," said Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr.

They recommended for the jail to re-engage the city of Atlanta for the purchase of the Atlanta Jail to provide additional space for inmates and review a process for handling inmates with mental illnesses.

"We the people came together to do this and think that is very important," said Young.

Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners John Eaves responds to the Howard's announcement:

"As Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, I appreciate the thoroughness and the seriousness with which Fulton County Grand Jurors approached their investigations into any possible issues in our schools and the county jail. Their hard work and focus on improving two of our most important institutions is something that I commend.

I remain concerned about ongoing issues at the county jail, especially in light of the fact that we are under a Consent Decree which called for a number of changes at the Jail. Of the 116 issues identified in the federal consent decree, Fulton County has resolved 114 of them. For example, the county provided full funding for additional needed positions within the jail and more than a billion dollars have already been spent on improvements and additional personnel.

Just this week, I requested a substantive and meaningful dialogue to discuss with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed the use of the Atlanta City Jail to alleviate overcrowding issues. I would hope that we could quickly come to an agreement to use that facility for a fair price since it is in everyone's interest to do so.

The county has already begun investigating other alternatives to long term incarceration for non-violent offenders. We have seen improvements in that regard because of diversion programs including drug court and veterans' court. We take seriously the recommendation that such efforts be increased and that we look at any processing issues in the jail. The county also will take a long look at issues regarding the health care given to mentally ill inmates. We already have a mental health evaluation in place for such prisoners and that process will be part of further scrutiny.

We remain committed to resolving remaining issues in the jail and ensuring that happens quickly and efficiently."

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