Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat’s Presentation
First of all, good evening, and thank you all and certainly, to our madam chair. I always appreciate the opportunity to come before our community and have a conversation. We are moving as aggressively as we can on several different fronts – to include putting more deputies on the street. But one of the things that we need to focus on, as we are just past 70 days into the year, is treating people humanely and looking at the space we are currently operating in and moving to really look at how we 5 can jointly if not lease but purchase the City of Atlanta Detention Center. You’ll see my thoughts on it as we move through the presentation’s slides:
With overview as you see it is for the ones that have not already had an opportunity to hear the presentation. We will move from where we are to the information. We’ve gotten most recently regarding the ACDC and then certainly the opportunities as we get ready to move forward.
And again, you’ll see what honest communication will get us. I think people are coming to the table to see after 30 years what we can do jointly between Fulton County and the City of Atlanta.
The next slide is an overview that talks about how we are uniquely positioned and to really close the gap. For years Council member Norwood, you’ve talked about not just restorative justice, but being able to work as stakeholders between the county and the city to focus on such agreements. This I feel will clearly take an opportunity and help us from a wholistic perspective to look at what Criminal Justice Reform looks like. We’ve been doing this over the years but more importantly we once again have a unique opportunity. I do ask people to be mindful that there are 15 cities inside Fulton County and in particular this focus is on what our perceptions have been and how we can move into this next generation – if you will – specifically with Fulton County in the City working together.
As we talk about where we currently are, one of the things that is important to note is that we just got out from the Federal Consent Decree in 2015, We often say that the county jail has been overcrowded from the day it was built. It remains so today; we have 230 people that are sleeping on – what you see in the picture: makeshift beds. That’s as well as a current jail population of 2942. That number has fluctuated over the last couple of days. We have 2,500 people at the actual facility at 901 Rice Street and we need to include the 238 young ladies out at the South Annex. There are also other people across the State, depending on what programs are in place. And as you we go through this; we’ll talk about mental health and how that has had a huge impact on our really on law enforcement as a whole but equally as important as the jail.
The Rice Street facility is actually 32 years old. The South Annex is 20 years old. Between the two we need capital improvements. But I also make sure people understand when we have this conversation a very honest conversation about where we are. ACDC will not solve the County’s problem with respect to the jail. But it has begun a very robust conversation about building a new facility and what that looks like as we get ready to move forward. So, you know, I really appreciate everyone leaning in and making sure we talk to our constituents from all legislative levels because it will take all of us to get this done. But again, and people ask often, “Why did I reach out to Council members as well as Fulton County Commissioners to have these tours? And I know that question comes up quite often, but what I found is that past administrations have not gotten a true sense of where we are. So, I invited legislators to come in to experience what I was experiencing inside the first 30 days and I thought it important for us to have an honest and transparent conversation.
Covid-19 has not made anyone’s life easier in any way, it has made it even more difficult at 901 Rice Street to keep people, our customers, if you will, socially distanced in a meaningful way. Having ACDC will allow us to do that to begin that conversation as and for the ones that have not had an opportunity to understand where we are with respect to the physical structure. The Fulton County Jail was built in a fashion that employs indirect supervision. Meaning that they’re the easiest way to think about it is–as you see this unit on the picture, when that officer leaves that unit, (Generally: we teach this in law enforcement and in a correctional environment the biggest and the baddest person is normally in charge.) But with ACDC there are 22 housing units and each unit has an officer in the unit 24-hours seven days a week weekends and holidays. And so, with that kind of oversight you end up with less inmate-on-inmate assaults, less inmate on staff assaults, less contraband and a more humane environment. And in that space as well–because of the architectural opportunities, we will be able to space out a little more.
Quite simply, as you heard me mention when we start talking about the Fulton County situational analysis, our quarantining has been very challenging at best. And so, we’ve partnered with not just the CDC, Grady Hospital, Emory Hospital as well as our actual providers to figure out how–beyond the lack of space, what’s best for us to do and so one of the things that we’re focusing on as the state continues to open up and more vaccines are available. At what point will detainees or our customers be able to receive a vaccine? So, we’re looking at that. We have had a spike in numbers due to Covid-19. We’ve had situations where individuals come in and then refuse the test. They are quarantined immediately. And then, those that have been diagnosed or tested positive for Covid-19, we end up quarantining them as well. Those numbers grow. So right now, there are 52 positive tests. Now since March of last year, we’ve only had six people hospitalized and so we’ve been doing well, but certainly we need to improve or have additional space to improve that.
As we continue to talk about Fulton County and where we are, you see right here, we’ve had over 300 detainees test positive as well as about 84 staff members. So, we are focusing on where we are trying to get to. One thing about the Atlanta City Detention Center as you may know, I was Chief for the last 10 years. Worked at 20 years prior to that and so 31 years total with the city. Now one thing we focused on is our accreditation and not just treating people humanely, but really the best practices and a correctional environment usually derived from the American Correctional Association and that accreditation the other piece if you recall I as the chief I made the offer to the county, and now as the Sheriff, I’m hoping we can have an offer from the city. When we start talking about our youthful offenders again, many of you may or may not know youthful offenders are 17, not yet 18, but in and of themselves have to be housed sight and sound away from any other detainees that are 18 or older. One of the unique opportunities we have is that whether it be the youthful offenders; whether be our female population; whether it be mental health help; we can be more accurate and have more engaged programmatic opportunities at ACDC simply, by the way it’s structured. Again, I mentioned earlier about how we phase or move young ladies to the female detention area in the South Annex in Union City. So again, we, as a sheriff’s office, continue to have conversations around mental health, have become the de facto mental health institution, one of the largest in the state. So currently right now we have 85 individuals that are out to other programs throughout the state to include trying to receive additional mental health, and here’s one more telling sign quickly before we move on right now. We have detainees that have been in the Fulton County Jail in custody since 2015 and now they are charged with one, if not more than one, of the seven deadly sins–but in some in many instances, 12 they have been found mentally incompetent to stand trial and so that then prolongs that mental health situation that we find ourselves in. We’ve even gone and taking a proactive look over the last two months as to partner with Emory Hospital and make sure people understand that. We also have a program that in the best of all worlds will ultimately try and get those types of individuals in our custody prepared and able to move forward with their trial. We will try to get them the treatment they need to obtain the mental capacity to be able to stand trial, so we’re trying to take care of those situations as we continue as well.
So, one of the things that we talked about at ACDC often is how we have gone from how the numbers have continued to decrease as well as the services that are provided decreased by extension. There are some opportunities–I’ve said this publicly and privately–when it comes to the average daily population, actually that it’s lower than that since January the average daily population at ACDC is 20 people. And so, while they are certainly laws that have changed and the way that the city does business. Again, that simply provides more opportunity for us to get people off the floor to having increased space and so it makes sense. The other thing that we have to deal with, and we have to be honest about is the perception of closing a facility. That is what many people have taken exception to is that we’re closing a perfectly good facility eventually is the plan. The other thing we have to be intentional about is really being honest. So, every time that we hear that a CDC is closed it is still up and fully operational. We’ve heard that for three years. It’s time for us to–in my opinion–to see how we can have a really honest conversation about what we can do and partner with the Fulton County Board of Commissioners to focus on–not just building a new facility, but what we need to do in the meantime and having a ACDC would certainly help us in that capacity.
I’m not sure if everyone had an opportunity to hear about what Chief Judge Portis has talked about where we’ve come from in the last 3 years. You can see right here that the stats bear out that our failure-to-appear rate to has gone up over 230 percent just in 2015 to 2019. But what does that mean? That means people aren’t coming back to court. There is a gap in the actual process of cash bail that has to be fixed in order for us to get meaningful data, but right now people are not coming back to court. It’s a fact it’s not fiction and I believe moving in the opposite direction of eliminating more city ordinance laws if you will be counterproductive to what we can and should be doing.
In 1995 you look at the 26 years that we’ve had the Detention Center and contrary to many people’s “propaganda” >> many people have said that ACDC was built in order to get people off the street for the Olympics. That is simply not true. We outgrew where we were at 236 Peachtree Street and in doing that, as many of you know, that was that day and became Gateway while I certainly appreciate the jobs they do Gateway and the services they provide, many of the services they provide are some of the same services we’re talking about with the current 254 Peachtree Street ACDC. So again, I’ve already mentioned what direct supervision was and how impactful it can be.
I will take an opportunity to tell you when as a young officer moving as a sergeant actually moving from indirect supervision at 2:36 Peachtree Street in to 250 for the newer building. I was absolutely against it. There was no way you could tell me that we could take the same thousand people at the time anywhere from 800 to a thousand people; treat them more humanely; get them off two floors; use less expensive construction material in building the facility; only to have my belief a couple years later change completely. Not only is it the most humane way to treat individuals, it is also the most efficient. It is absolutely an opportunity for us to redefine with law enforcement looks like as we get ready to hopefully partner to figure out how we can use some of that space and in building that facility. We were very thoughtful about not just how we treat people but how efficient it became. At the time and still now, it’s one of the best facilities in the country. We were able to maintain a perfect 100 on our American Correctional Association accreditation to include a perfect 100 on our Fulton 15 County Health school over a 10-year period so the proof is in the pudding. It is where we need to put people.
You’ve heard me talk about the additional bed space not just to alleviate overcrowding. You’ve heard me talk about the youthful offenders as well. We’re going to build an entrepreneurial center for our females at the South Annex that would be a wonderful place to move them closer to the city. And everyone over the years has heard me talk about the PAT3 program: the program for adult offenders to transition through training and therapy. It’s the number one program in the country: instead of leaving the facility inside DLC the State Department of Corrections with $25 and a bus ticket. We were able to put people to work. Our returning citizens with 15 months or less became city employees. In many instances we were able to partner with the Department of Public Works as well as Watershed to put these young men to work, so instead of leaving with $25 and bus ticket, many left with $10,000 – $15,000 – $20,000 in the bank. A real opportunity for a groundbreaking change and really re-engineering what re-entry looks like because first we have to understand when we have this conversation is that almost 90% of the individuals returning from the Department of Corrections into our communities come back to the Atlanta metro area. And so, what we what is the best outcome get them employed gainfully employed in many instances? We had private companies such as Home Depot come in and help train. We’ve had people that actually make the water meters…build the water meters–come in and teach this life skill if you will because for us it’s about changing lives at that point. Unfortunately, the program has dissipated over at the city. So as soon as we level set and we move a little past Covid-19, we will actually continue and move back into creating that environment at the county level as well.
We can really sit down and have a meaningful conversation whether it be leasing; whether it be purchasing; etc. We will certainly be able to continue to do the things that we should be doing whether it be the PAT3 Program, mental health programs, substance abuse programs, youthful offenders’ programs, we’ll be able to provide those wraparound services. And in many instances, we can do it based on several of the grants that we’ve already obtained at the county level. I get a lot of feedback regarding what’s next for the employees. Well again an opportunity for us to partner and I’ve said this both privately and publicly: all those individuals in good standing at the City of Atlanta Department of Corrections, we will hire at Fulton County. There is an opportunity for us to really do two things: And this is critical when you start talking about violent offenders, we need to have space for them. When you start talking about those misdemeanors — those individuals that violate our city ordinances, there have to be consequences for those particular behaviors. But look at what the court has done over the years in terms of great programmatic opportunities for people to get their charges expunged and being able to move in that area. We should be able to do this together in the holistic fashion.
One of the things that we really have to be honest about is where we are. For years, I’ve had an opportunity to watch our budget move in the City of Atlanta from $33 million down to $18 million. $15 million of the current ACDC budget went into another department which is constituent services, so the operational budget then appeared to be closer to $3 million. But if we were able to work this out accordingly that’s an $18 million liability we could take off of the City of Atlanta’s books. If we were able to sell it to–or if we were able to buy it from the County perspective, that’s another $20 or $30 million. Now you’re talking about nearly 40 or $50 million to put back into the General Fund, and we would still be able to provide both City services as well as Fulton County services. I had an opportunity to talk to some of the members over at the Tax Commissioner’s Office. When we built ACDC, both Fulton County residents and Atlanta residents paid the taxes to make this happen, so we certainly don’t want to have people double-taxed in any way shape form or fashion.
We talked about potential risk. There’s some risk on both sides of the conversation. So, the facts are: For every state charge, there is a municipal charge and vice versa. We have to understand when you come to Fulton County Jail, it’s not a place to teach people a lesson: I’ll give you a prime example and this is really goes out to people that continue to break the law. This Last time when we had activists jump onto the expressway, they were in for a shock, because instead of going to the city jail, they came to the county jail, and it was totally different. So again, to have this collaborative agreement that says the city is now the county and the county is now the city, we can certainly make sure that people understand that they’re going the Rice Street and ultimately may be housed at the city. I did find out there are at the county level much like the city level there is a signature bond in place. It’s a blanket signature bonds for nonviolent offenses. And this was put in place by one of the Chief Judges for Covid-19 relief factors.
But the Unique Piece here is: not only is it not only is it temporary, when we experience opportunities to strengthen the actual signature bond piece, unlike the cash bail bond piece that has not been revisited, we were able to do so in a short time and really strengthen it to the point that those that are out there meaning us no good and we’re watching them repeatedly get arrested at the city level and then the city judge turn around and finds the person incompetent after an evaluation–a property valuation mind you–the person found to be incompetent was then released back onto the street; charges dismissed; and then went right back to the Healey building downtown and committed the exact same crimes. If not worse. We were able to step in as a County and redirect that person; get them some additional help and now they are still in custody.
We started talking about overcrowding, you know, one of the things that goes along with this potential risk is how do we fight crime and how do we create this heavier presence. One of the things that we’ve announced most recently at Fulton County is that we are creating a crime suppression team which will be named “The Scorpion Team.” They will go out on a daily basis and search for those that mean us no good. If you continue to commit crimes in Fulton County >> holding people at gunpoint; pulling weapons on people; murder; aggravated assault…the best way for me to put it is: “We’re going to stop the stalkers.” We have, right now, since I took office, we had over 1,300 warrants. These are warrants that we know had been taken out because people need temporary protection orders (TPO’s) because people have been found to really be, not just in violation of the law, but enough of the preponderance of evidence to take a warrant out on these individuals and they haven’t been getting served until we took office again a little over 75 days ago. We have been very thoughtful about not just street presence, but thoughtful about making these warrants; making these arrests; and then moving into a space of how we create a safer environment for us all. The Scorpion team will be operating on a daily basis. It’s a crime suppression team that will be focusing on a daily basis of how we create a better environment for us all. The one thing we have been able to do is to partner with the Gang Task Force, with APD, the City of South Fulton. And we are partnering with the Governor and the State Patrol with respect to some of this street racing. We are leaning in more heavily in that environment. I ask people for their patience from The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office perspective because this is a real-life situation. Two weekends ago, we were asked to help in Sandy Springs with the street racing. We run the Sandy Springs to help. We were asked to help in Buckhead for another situation and then we were asked on the same night within the same hour to come out to Camp 20 Creek and help with over 200 or 300 teenagers. So, while we may appear to be spread thin we are moving in the right direction.
Again, one of the things that is has continued to plague us over. The last three to four years is a public perception. All right, it is it is not the perception that the state is opened. The state is open but is the perception that closing a jail–and I’m telling you I’m from here, so this is not just rhetoric, the fact is there are people in neighborhoods after neighborhoods that that perceive crime is simply out of control and it absolutely is. I say this often and I say it loud is I was elected by the people to do something about every aspect of law enforcement to include really crime suppression. And we’re going after this with a vigor that hadn’t been done before at the Sheriff’s Office level. In the past, the Sheriff’s office has been solely focused on the courts as well as the jails themselves, but holistically we’ve begun to create these partnerships and we have to work together to get it done. And perception is everyone’s reality. And so, we think it irresponsible that if we don’t really focus in and be very intentional about what we do in our partnerships, that we don’t serve our people, our community, in its best interest by not going after crime. So, we’re going to change that perception and it starts with the Sheriff’s Office; it starts with the leadership. And again, I say this, and I’ll continue to say it, if you commit a crime in Fulton County with intentional hurting or harming someone but whether it’s our community or whether it’s somebody visiting, we’re coming to see about you.