Overcrowding forces transfer of 600 Ga. inmates
The announcement came after the family of Lashawn Thompson, 35, who was found covered in bed bugs after he died inside the jail last year, called for an investigation
By Jozsef Papp
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — More than 600 inmates being housed at the Fulton County Jail will be moved to other counties, the sheriff’s office announced Friday.
The move is being made to “help relieve overcrowding” and is expected to cost about $40,000 per day. It is unclear which jails the inmates are being moved to, which inmates are being moved and when.
The announcement came a day after the family of Lashawn Thompson, 35, who was found covered in bed bugs after he died inside the jail last year, called for an investigation and a closure of the jail.
Sheriff Pat Labat announced a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding Thompson’s death is underway.
“Without making any explicit statements about Mr. Thompson’s health, it’s fair to say that this is one of many cases that illustrate the desperate need for expanded and better mental health services,” a sheriff’s office statement said.
According to a Fulton County Medical Examiner report, Thompson was discovered unresponsive in the jail’s psychiatric wing on Sept. 13. His body showed no obvious signs of trauma and the cause of death was undetermined, the report said, noting a “severe bed bug infestation” in the jail.
In a statement, Labat said the sheriff’s office had taken immediate actions as a result of a preliminary investigation.
A $500,000 expenditure “to address the infestation of bed bugs, lice and other vermin within the Fulton County Jail, which was done in addition to prior cleaning operations targeting communicable diseases that are common in congregant settings” was approved by officials.
Protocols for security rounds were updated and additional staff members were added to the mental health unit, the statement said. Once an internal investigation is complete, an official request for review will be made with the GBI to determine whether any criminal charges are warranted, Labat said.
In February, Labat presented a proposal to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to create a $2 billion “criminal justice complex” with access to mental health and education services, not just a new jail.
Labat said during the meeting that the main jail on Rice Street is “falling apart” with inmates often crafting knives from part of the building, resulting in regular stabbings.
In November, the Southern Center for Human Rights stated in a report that Fulton’s jail was “dangerously understaffed and overcrowded” and that it had outbreaks of lice and scabies. An ACLU analysis of Fulton County’s inmate population found the jail overcrowding crisis is mainly due to delayed indictments, unaffordable bail and underused diversion programs.
The report, which was released in October, found that 46.6% of Fulton’s detainees have not been formally charged with a crime, 12% were in custody because they can’t afford bail and 3.6% could have qualified for arrest diversion programs.
As a stopgap, the county sends about 250 inmates to Cobb County, and recently agreed to lease 700 jail beds from the city of Atlanta, potentially costing $50 million over a four-year span. In 2021, the sheriff’s office moved 100 inmates out of the county jail to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, as part of an intergovernmental agreement between Labat and Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens.
Between 2009 and October 2022, 64 people held in the Fulton jail died, the highest total for any jail in Georgia during that time, according to records gathered by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.