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SCHR Statement on the Department of Justice Investigation into Conditions at the Fulton County Jail

Mere days after news that 19-year-old Noni Battiste-Kosoko has died in Fulton County custody, the Department of Justice has announced an investigation into the conditions in the Fulton County Jail. The Southern Center wrote to the Department of Justice in April of this year in support of the demands of family of Mr. Lashawn Thompson, who died in torturous conditions at the Fulton County jail in September 2022. These preventable deaths and the related human rights violations that persist in Fulton County detention facilities result from callous neglect, mismanagement, staff corruption and overcrowding fueled by racially disparate criminal legal processes.

On August 15, 2022, the Southern Center shared our concerns with the Atlanta City Council and broader community regarding the intergovernmental agreement permitting Fulton County to control portions of the Atlanta City Detention Center, warning that for decades our office has been in legal fights over conditions with the county’s jails. We understood that the lease would merely export these abuses to the city jail, which had long been slated for closure and repurposing as a center for wellness and equity, to provide mental health and other services to interrupt the cycle of arrest and incarceration. 

We are currently engaged in litigation against Sheriff Labat for ongoing violations of a settlement agreement aimed at improving the treatment of people with psychiatric disabilities like Mr. Thompson in the South Fulton Jail, who were subjected to around-the-clock isolation, causing women to decompensate in conditions a federal judge called “repulsive.” We filed that lawsuit in April 2019, and reached settlement last spring, yet the Sheriff has failed to comply with the minimum standards outlined in the settlement agreement. Despite this class of women being transferred to leased beds in the Atlanta City Detention Center, they remain in danger, subject to deplorable conditions.

The pattern of mismanagement and cruelty has plagued the jail since it opened in the eighties, and will doubtlessly persist in Sheriff Labat’s proposed new multi-billion dollar jail. In light of current events and what appears to be intensifying peril for people detained in Fulton County, the Southern Center welcomes the Department of Justice’s investigation that will hopefully shed light on, and afford accountability for, the operations of the Fulton County Jail.

“We are grateful to the DOJ for heeding the call of the community to address the human rights crisis perpetuated in Fulton County’s many jail facilities, even as elected officials ignore the public,” said Terrica Ganzy, Executive Director of SCHR. “This is a significant step toward a reckoning for the lives tragically and senselessly lost, and for the many people who continue to suffer rampant indignity and abuse in Fulton jails.”