ATLANTA — Following the announcement that the Department of Justice was opening a civil rights investigation into conditions at the Fulton County Jail, Channel 2 Action News started digging into the allegations being levied against the facility.
On Thursday, the DOJ said it was looking into claims of filthy housing, rampant violence, excessive force, injuries, and even death at the Fulton County Jail.
Channel 2 investigative report Ashli Lincoln spent the day Friday going through documents showing how dire staffing is inside the jail.
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Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat has been vocal that these issues we’re seeing at the jail are the results of understaffing.
In May, Lincoln had requested to look at staffing sheets and found on more than one occasion units were unmanned because there simply wasn’t enough staff.
And hundreds of documents Channel 2 Action News obtained through an Open Records Request show just how slim staffing is at the Fulton County Jail.
“Staffing is the issue. Staffing will continue to be the issue,” former Fulton County Sheriff’s Office employee Col. John Jackson said. “Until we get the staff and amount of people we need, and certainly not below half, we’re going to constantly be talking about these types of issues.”
Jackson expressed his concerns about jail staffing levels in April after he said he was forced to resign after an inmate was allegedly killed by bed bugs.
Lincoln looked at numbers going back to May 2022 for both the North and South Towers. The documents that are called deployment sheets show more than 90% of the units were severely understaffed daily during that period.
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Ideal staffing at the jail would require there to be one detention officer in a tower who oversees two to three officers on the ground.
But the reality here is most days there’s just one in the tower and one on the ground.
“How important is the manpower piece to fixing things in the jail?” Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne asked Labat in a previous interview.
“It’s paramount,” Labat said. “These aren’t two-week-old problems.”
Lincoln found that on April 13 of this year, 7 South, which houses the jail’s most violent offenders, no one was documented covering the unit for an entire 12-hour shift.
On the fifth floor for both the north and south towers, in February 2022, only one detention officer was patrolling the cell.
In April of this year, again, no one was assigned to 4 South, and the mental health floor, which is on level three, only had one person assigned to make rounds.
“So when an officer up there trying to watch 175-200 inmates, keeping in mind in any zone you got 10 -15 people sleeping on the floor, they’re having to step over them, you have to use keys to let yourself in a unit so that officer’s on a lot of duress,” Jackson said.
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Jackson told Lincoln that a lot of the people in the jail are awaiting trial, missed court dates, or misdemeanor violations like traffic tickets.
Lincoln spoke with other former sheriff’s office employees who say understaffing leads to several incidents at the jail, including in May when Channel 2 Action News showed how an inmate was able to dig through walls at the jail.
The county has increased pay and sign-on bonuses to help with recruitment.
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on Friday evening that read,
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has taken several steps to increase staffing for the agency, and specifically in the jail.
We have entered an agreement with Strategic Security Corporation that will provide us with up to 87 guards who will monitor the towers inside the jails. These guards are being brought on in phases. The first wave started training this past Monday. They go through a rigorous background check and screening to ensure the safety and security of the jail. All 87 guards are scheduled to be on board by the end of August.
Our Background and Recruitment Unit has been conducting recruiting events at a variety of locations on a weekly basis, sometimes more than one a week. If you look on our social media, you will see we post “Recruitment Fridays.” This week, we held a Recruitment Wednesday and Recruitment Thursday.
We also have several electronic billboards and bus shelter ads running around the county featuring our hiring website and $10,500 sign on bonus.
Lastly, the starting pay for Deputy Sheriff is $60,000 and Detention Officer is $54,000, the highest of any other sheriff’s office in the state.
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