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Statement from Communities Over Cages Alliance Regarding Mounting Deaths at the Fulton County Jail

On October 19, 2022, yet another detained person died in the Fulton County Jail. According to news reports, the individual was found deceased on the floor of his cell, with his wrists and ankles bound. 

This year alone, there have been ten deaths in the Fulton County Jail. Each and every life lost in the Fulton County Jail is both tragic and avoidable. The jail is in a state of crisis, created by years of mismanagement and extreme backlogs due to prosecutors and judges relying on pretrial detention even when more humane options are available.

Fulton County Sheriff Labat has skirted accountability by attempting to frame these horrifying jail deaths as evidence that the county is in need of bedspace at the Atlanta city jail. He would like the public to believe these deaths as out of his hands, or even the City of Atlanta’s fault.

The Communities Over Cages Alliance firmly disputes this narrative. In fact, one of the key issues driving jail deaths is Sheriff Labat’s own inability to adequately staff the jail, as well as corruption and violence from current Sheriff’s Office staff.

On October 10, Sheriff Labat stated that he currently has 155 staff vacancies, meaning he cannot adequately staff his facilities right now—even as he proposed to expand to a new facility. And alarmingly, the staff he has maintained are at the center of the current violence in the jail. For example, this September, Sheriff Labat sent a letter to the National Institute of Corrections requesting a security audit given “a number of potentially dangerous circumstances,” including “alleged criminal activity by, and arrest of, employees and contractors.” In other words, Labat’s existing personnel are such sources of violence, contraband, and unrest that he has sought national intervention. 

As one individual who was detained in the Fulton County Jail shared: “The entire jail is full of guards and other staff that are bringing in drugs, cell phones, and cigarettes and selling them to people locked up inside. They treat people terribly. They’re putting everybody at risk. There are no security rounds. The Sheriff has no idea what’s going on.”

The issues at the jail are culture, staffing, and mismanagement compounded by court delays overseen by judges and prosecutors. Fulton County’s insistence on expanding its jail footprint instead of depopulating the jail has led to nearly half of the jail population has not even been formally charged with a crime. Hundreds of people are languishing in jail simply because they’re too poor to afford cash bail. 

The answer to this crisis, on the other hand, is to depopulate the jail. A recent report from the ACLU showed that at least 728 individuals could be released—but it will take cooperation from the Sheriff’s Office, the Judges, and the District Attorney to do so. Every day that these actors refuse to expedite releases, they have additional blood on their hands. 

The Communities Over Cages Alliance shares its condolences, solidarity, and outrage with the families of all those who have suffered and died in the jail. We will continue to fight against the County’s proposed jail expansion plan. People on the floor of the Fulton County Jail belong in homes, not in another cage.