Atlanta Unmoved by Fulton Jail’s Federal Violations, as ACDC Partnership Advances
(APN) ATLANTA – At the August 08, 2022 Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee Meeting of the City Council of Atlanta, the Committee approved a contract allowing the transfer of prisoners from South Fulton Jail to the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), in a vote of five to one, despite a recent federal ruling that the jail has consistently violated the constitutional rights of the jail’s female prisoners.
“City officials have claimed that moving people from [South Fulton Jail] Union City to ACDC will address inhumane conditions in existing county jails,” Caitlin Childs, Senior Investigator for the Southern Center for Human Rights, commented to the Committee.
“I want to make it crystal clear that the constitutional violations that led to litigation were not about the location of our clients,” Childs said.
“They were about the unlawful and unconstitutional practices of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, the same sheriff’s office that will continue to be responsible for their custody and care, even if they are housed in ACDC” Childs said.
In 2019, the Georgia Advocacy Office in partnership with the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class action lawsuit against Fulton County Sheriff’s Office alleging unconstitutional conditions for women with serious mental illness held in the South Fulton County Jail.
The case is Georgia Advocacy Office v. Patrick Labat, et al.
In a class action settlement agreement, approved by court order on April 04, 2022, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, Fulton County’s Sheriff’s Office agreed to “take immediate and ongoing steps to ensure inmates with serious mental illness housed at the South Fulton Jail and who cannot function within the general population receive ‘out-of-cell time; access to therapeutic services, access to drinking water; personal hygiene items; clean clothing; showers; and food that is not soured, expired, or moldy’, and other relief.”
During Committee Meeting, Childs shared the following testimonies of women detained at South Fulton Jail:
Client MJ, a twenty-year-old woman with mental illness was arrested and charged with criminal trespass for failing to leave the West End Mall. She was homeless at the time and could not afford her five hundred dollar bond.
MJ was kept in her cell 23 to 24 hours a day during her incarceration.
MJ said “the isolation at this jail has made me very depressed. It just made me suicidal. I felt like harming myself. I tried to hang myself with a sheet. The police found me with a sheet around my neck. I had been taken to the suicide cell at Rice Street more than once. There I was put in a suicide cell, naked and alone. I was in that cell for three to four days.”
Client SHP, a woman in her late thirties, diagnosed with bipolar, complex PTSD, and generalized anxiety, was arrested when she refused to leave the Salvation Army where she was seeking shelter but did not have ten dollars to pay for a place to sleep.
She spent 159 days in jail and was only allowed out of her cell a handful of times. She was never offered recreation time outside and was only permitted to shower twice in 159 days.
She was forced to wear the same filthy clothing for months on end and was not provided with basic hygiene products or adequate supplies of toilet paper, nor was she provided with her mental health medication, despite repeatedly asking for it.
SHP said, “being locked in a cell all day and night caused my mind to break down. After a month or so I started to have hallucinations. Something that has never happened to me in my life. I remember that the walls started to look like they were moving on overcast days when the small frosted windows let in little light. The days and nights seem to blend together. I became incredibly anxious, defeated, and in despair.”
“This was all made worse. by the fact that I had no idea if I would be, or when I would be released. I began to think I would be locked in that cell forever.”
Client SP, a woman with schizophrenia who was initially taken to Grady Memorial Hospital for inpatient treatment before she was transported to the jail, where she spent 23 to 24 hours a day alone in the cell without any therapeutic services.
SP said, “I have a very difficult time coping in the mental health pods. I felt suicidal many times and I’ve had many episodes. I’ve been placed on suicide watch about every week to two weeks.”
When describing suicide watch she said “being on suicide watch is a horrible experience. When that happens, I’m usually forced to go naked in a nasty and completely empty concrete room. The room has a hole in the floor. I’m supposed to use the hole in the floor to relieve myself. It’s extremely cold in that room. They leave you in there for days sometimes: naked and shivering cold.”
Client AS, who was just seventeen at the time, has multiple psychiatric disabilities and was incarcerated shortly after being released from a residential treatment program with no community services in place.
“Being locked in my cell all day is extremely stressful and makes me feel angry and lonely. When you sit in a concrete room all by yourself all day it feels like you have been kidnapped,” she said.
“I do not get to use the phone very often to call my mother or family and it makes me feel sad and angry.”
AS was placed on suicide watch at Rice street approximately ten times in a five-month period.
“I often hurt myself in ways that I know may seriously injure or kill me. I do not want to take my life. But I’m always so lonely. And going to suicide watch is the only way I know how to get in a room around other people,” AS said.
Other components of the South Fulton Jail settlement agreement are:
Defendants must maintain the highest possible standards of cleanliness and sanitation in the areas in which class members are housed.
Defendants must designate specially trained correctional staff to work with class members.
The PS/LA Committee voted favorably, in a five to one vote, for proposed City of Atlanta Ordinance 22-O-1632, which would authorize an intergovernmental agreement with Fulton County Sheriff and Fulton County, for the temporary housing of up to seven hundred adult detainees at ACDC for a period up to four years.
Voting in favor were Councilmembers Dustin Hillis (District 9); Byron Amos (District 3); Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), the ordinance’s sponsor; Andrea Boone (District 10), and Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large).
Councilwoman Keisha Sean Waites (Post 3-at-large) voted nay.
Councilwoman Marci Overstreet (District 11) was absent.
Today, Monday, August 15, 2022, the Full Council will be considering the ordinance. There is currently a protest taking place outside City Hall, and a great many people are expected to make public comments prior to today’s Full Council Meeting regarding the proposal.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)