Following the announcement that the Justice Department was opening a civil rights investigation into conditions at the Fulton County Jail, Channel 2 Action News began digging into the allegations against the establishment.
On Thursday, the DOJ said it was reviewing the claims of substandard housing, rampant violence, excessive force, injury and even death at Fulton County Jail.
Channel 2 investigative reporting Ashli Lincoln spent Friday going through documents showing how dire the staff are inside the prison
Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said these issues we are seeing at the jail are the result of understaffing.
In May, Lincoln had asked to see staffing sheets and had found on more than one occasion that units were unstaffed because there simply weren’t enough staff.
And hundreds of documents Channel 2 Action News obtained through an application for open registration show how thin the staff is at Fulton County Jail.
“Staffing is the problem. Staffing will continue to be the issue,” said former Fulton County Sheriff’s Office employee Col. John Jackson. “Until we have the staff and the number of people we need, and certainly not less than half, we will constantly talk about these types of problems.
Jackson expressed concerns about prison staffing in April after saying he was forced to resign after an inmate was allegedly killed by bedbugs.
Lincoln looked at numbers going back to May 2022 for the North and South Towers. Documents called deployment sheets show that more than 90% of units were understaffed daily during this period.
Ideally, prison staffing would require there to be a detention officer in a tower who supervises two to three officers in the field.
But the reality here is that most of the time there is only one in the tower and one on the ground.
“How important is manpower to fix things in the prison?” Mark Winne, Channel 2 investigative journalist asked Labat in a previous interview.
“It’s paramount,” Labat said. “These are not two-week-old issues.”
Lincoln found that on April 13 of this year, 7 South, home to the prison’s most violent offenders, had no one documented covering the unit for a full 12-hour shift.
On the fifth floor of the North and South Towers, in February 2022, a single detention officer was patrolling the cell.
In April of this year, again, no one was assigned to 4 South, and the mental health floor, which is on level three, only had one person assigned to rounds.
“So when an officer up there is trying to guard 175 to 200 inmates, bearing in mind that in any area 10 to 15 people are sleeping on the floor, they have to step over them, you have to use keys to let you in a unit so that officer is under a lot of restraint,” Jackson said.
Jackson told Lincoln that many people in the jail were awaiting trial, missed court dates, or committed crimes like traffic tickets.
Lincoln spoke to other former Sheriff’s Office employees who said understaffing led to several incidents at the jail, including in May when Channel 2 Action News showed how an inmate was able to dig through prison walls.
The county increased salary and signing bonuses to help with recruiting.