Fulton Co. fights fines for failing to fix jail

8:21 PM, Nov 26, 2013   |    comments
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  • Fulton County Jail (file photo)

ATLANTA -- A watchdog group is asking a federal judge to slap a hefty fine on Fulton County and it's sheriff, for failing to fix safety problems at the jail.

The court ordered the changes seven years ago, yet attorney Melanie Velez with the Southern Center for Human Rights, says problems with overcrowding and safety remain.

"This isn't an issue of comfort," said Velez.

Velez says 40,000 people spend time in the Fulton County jail each year, and too many of them are sleeping on the floor, fearing for their life.

On Tuesday morning, the jail reported 200 people sleeping on the floor at the main facility.

"The majority of that number are in areas of the jail that doesn't have functioning cell locks. That's a dangerous situation," added Velez.

The county says all of the cell locks should work right now, unless an inmate intentionally blocks it.  The jail is in the process of replacing the old locks with new high tech tamper resistant ones.  But that work won't be finished until April 2014.

It's just one of three issues Velez says the jail and county need to address.  The other two are over crowding and staffing.

A court appointed monitor says the jail exceeded its population limit every day in July and August and to make matters worse, failed to schedule enough workers on every single shift, but four.

"For each shift in the month of October, and this is according to the sheriff's report himself, zero shifts were fully staffed in the facility. It's a fundamental function of the jail," said Velez.

A function the Southern Center for Human Rights says puts the inmates and staff in danger.  In its motion to ask that the county and sheriff be held in contempt of court, it listed nearly a dozen brutal and bloody attacks they feel could have been prevented with proper locks, staffing and population control.

Neither the county or sheriff would comment to 11Alive.  But  in court documents the county argues it has increased jail funding even as the county budget has decreased and has changed hiring policies to speed up the process.

The sheriff contends it still takes seven months to hire a new officer and that without more money, there's not much he can't do about the overpopulation problem.

Velez says she doesn't care who's to blame, she just wants the problems fixed and hopes the parties involved will start working together to do it before the court makes a ruling.

"I would hope they would start working on that right now, today," said Velez.

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