Human rights group says Ga. inmates suffer from lice, malnourishment

The center found that in one unit every inmate had lice, scabies or both


By Wilborn P. Nobles III
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Fulton County Jail is understaffed amid cases of malnourishment, lice and scabies among some inmates, according to the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The Southern Center released its findings Wednesday after obtaining the jail data through an open records request. The center found that in one unit housing people diagnosed with mental illnesses requiring treatment, every inmate had lice, scabies or both in September.

Additionally, the data showed 90% of the people in the unit were not showering, dressing, leaving bed, walking, using the toilet, or receiving essential medications, the report said. Medical findings showed more than 90% of the aforementioned people were malnourished to the point where they’ve loss muscle mass and fat.

The sheriff’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The findings come after at least 10 people died at Fulton’s jail this year, up from three last year. Southern Center Executive Director Terrica Ganzy called the jail’s conditions “horrifying.”

The Southern Center told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the jail decontaminated the unit by the end of September. The center said the jail can contain future outbreaks by giving people at least three showers a week, fresh clothing once a week, and cleaning in the unit daily. But Southern Center officials said the jail’s short staffing hindered its’ ability to perform these measures in the first place.

Lori Rush told the AJC she was a therapist at Fulton’s jail for six months until she left in April. She said the mental health providers couldn’t do meaningful work at the jail due to its understaffing and what she called a lack of care for the inmates.

“There’s constant infestations of body lice and bedbugs and feces smeared on the wall, which sometimes is a behavioral thing, but sometimes it’s a severe mental health outcome symptom,” Rush said. “It would just stay on the wall for days before they would clean it.”

In September, Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat said he’s lost more staff than he was able to hire. There were at least 155 staff vacancies as of Oct. 10, the Southern Center said.

Hundreds of Fulton inmates are resting in makeshift beds on the jail’s floors right now. When Labat sought federal assistance in September, he also wrote that they’ve confiscated more than 1,100 weapons, cell phones, and drugs from the jail.

“This year, 2 employees and 3 contractors have been arrested for their alleged role in trafficking contraband,” Labat wrote in a Sept. 20 letter to the National Institute of Corrections. “There are, currently underway, 53 investigations related to jail staff and/or vendor misconduct.”

Atlanta plans to lease 700 city detention center beds to Fulton for four years to help alleviate these issues. But the ACLU and the Georgetown Law Center for Innovations in Community Safety recently reported Fulton could depopulate the jail by improving its case processing times for unindicted individuals. Advocates also want Fulton to reevaluate its bail system and pre-arrest diversion programs.

“The jail is a public health nightmare,” Ganzy said. “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 de-carcerate.”

©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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