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Georgia lawmakers continue probe of Fulton County Jail

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(The Center Square) — Georgia lawmakers continue exploring the Fulton County Jail, and leaders of a special subcommittee say their probe isn’t political.

“I want to be really clear on something. This is not political, and if you are making it political, I want to say this one time: ‘Stop,'” state Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said during the hearing. “It’s embarrassing by some people’s behavior right now. It’s embarrassing by the way some of the media is portraying this right now. We’re talking about people’s lives. Deflecting to something else or to take the eye off the problem is always the wrong answer.”

The Fulton County Jail Subcommittee is examining the “root causes” and possible solutions for fixing the Fulton County Jail following a string of deaths and violence at the facility. Earlier this week, officials said they charged an inmate with aggravated assault and possession of prohibited items in connection with the stabbing of fellow inmate Shannon Jackson, also known as Shannon Stillwell, a current co-defendant in the high-profile Young Slime Life — or YSL — street gang trial.

Despite continued concerns about the facility’s conditions, county officials said they have reduced the jail’s population from about 3,600 detainees two-and-a-half years ago to 2,819 on Dec. 7. However, the county sheriff told lawmakers that some detainees don’t want to accept a plea deal that would allow them to leave the jail.

“You’d be surprised at the number of people … we have gone to [who are charged with] misdemeanors and said, ‘Okay, here’s the offer.’ And people would just rather stay in jail,” Fulton County Sheriff Patrick “Pat” Labat told the committee.

“They may not be sheltered; they may not have the opportunity, but they know they’re going to get fed” while remanded, Labat said. “…They don’t have to worry about housing or any of the things that come along with [being released]. And there have been a number of people that have just turned down whatever the offer is to help them receive services.”

A new analysis by the ACLU of Georgia, “Breaking the Cycle: Exploring Alternatives to a New Jail,” explores the conditions and overcrowding within Fulton County’s jail system

Before considering a new $2 billion jail, the report suggests county officials weigh a series of recommendations, ranging from indicting individuals within 90 days as required by Georgia law to supporting recommendations from the 2023 grand jury panel.

“Fulton County should reject spending billions on a new jail when there is still work to be done to ensure we are not engaging in wealth-based detention and over incarceration,” ACLU of Georgia Deputy Director of Policy and Advocacy Fallon McClure said in an announcement. “Fulton County’s history shows we cannot build our way out of overcrowding, and the ACLU of Georgia recommends Fulton County leaders let state law and evidence-based scholarship be our touchstone to reduce the overcrowding at Rice Street before considering any new jail building.”

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