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Uncontained Outbreaks of Lice, Scabies Leave People at Fulton Jail Dangerously Malnourished

Press Release – for Immediate Release

Media Contact: Hannah Riley; [email protected], 470-867-7530

(Atlanta, GA) – The Fulton County Jail located at 901 Rice Street is dangerously understaffed and overcrowded. The packed, unhygienic living conditions are dangerous on a number of levels, easily facilitating the spread of viruses like COVID-19 or parasitic outbreaks. Since at least September, there have been outbreaks of both lice and scabies reported at the Rice Street facility. 

The Fulton County Jail has been understaffed and mismanaged for decades, leading to multiple lawsuits and consent decrees, but the problems have been particularly acute in recent months as Fulton County Sheriff Labat has failed to maintain even existing staff. On September 21st, Labat stated that he had lost more staff than he was able to hire, and as of October 10th there were at least 155 staff vacancies.

According to documents obtained through an open records request, medical professionals brought in to assess the September outbreak found that 100% of the people held in one unit had either lice, scabies and or both. That unit houses people diagnosed with mental illnesses requiring treatment; the reviewers also found that 90% of the people in the unit had not been completing their “activities of daily living”—including showering, dressing, getting out of bed, walking, and using the toilet—or receiving essential medications. Further medical findings showed that over 90% of the affected people were significantly malnourished, showing clear signs of cachexia – a wasting syndrome leading to the loss of muscle and fat, often seen in people with late stage cancers. 

“The fact that people held in the custody of Fulton County are so malnourished and ill that they are experiencing muscle wasting commonly seen in people with late stage cancers is horrifying. The jail is a public health nightmare, and instead of exporting the dangerous mismanagement of disease and inhumane treatment of people to the city of Atlanta, Fulton officials should be using every tool available to them to quickly decarcerate,” said Terrica Ganzy, Executive Director of the Southern Center Human Rights. 

A scabies infestation can be complicated by many things, including bacterial infections that cause skin sores and, in turn, can lead to serious medical consequences like heart disease and chronic kidney disease. Lice outbreaks can similarly cause secondary infections without prompt eradication and treatment.

The recommendations given to the jail administrators to contain future outbreaks included improved hygiene practices, such as allowing people at least three showers a week, an opportunity for fresh clothing once a week, and implementing daily cleaning of the housing unit. The fact that these very basic measures were not already in place speaks to the extent of the understaffing crisis at the jail. 

At least 10 people have died at the Fulton County Jail in just 2022 thus far. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and Georgetown Law Center for Innovations in Community Safety have recently released reports offering direct recommendations to Fulton County on how to quickly and safely depopulate the jail.