Seven months after eliminating payments to ship Fulton County inmates elsewhere to ease jail overcrowding, the county Board of Commissioners did an about face Wednesday, agreeing to lease space — and possibly buy — the Union City jail.
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Fulton’s troubled jail history
2004: U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob begins overseeing a lawsuit prompted by a handwritten complaint about jail conditions from inmate Frederick Harper.
2006: A consent order in the Harper case sets population limits and staffing levels at the Fulton County jail.
2007 to 2010: To comply with the order, the county spent $60 million on upgrades, including heating and air conditioning and replacing elevators, the backup generator system and toilets in cells. With interest on the loan, the total cost will be about $86 million.
August 2011: Shoob, frustrated after learning that thousands of inmates have been sleeping on floors, threatens to lock up Fulton commissioners if they don’t take action to eliminate crowding. Specifically, he wants them to buy Atlanta’s 1,314-bed jail.
September 2011: Negotiations fall apart after the city more than doubles its asking price to $85 million. Fulton enters an agreement to house 200 inmates at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail in Union City. The Atlanta jail considered by Fulton has since been demolished and replaced by the new city police headquarters.
December 2011: The County Commission slashes the inmate outsourcing budget by $2 million after learning the jail’s average population plummets.
April 2012: In a report to the court, Fulton says its jail population is decreasing to levels from more than 15 years ago. After telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he may not push the county to build a new jail and he may lift federal oversight within the next year, Shoob orders the county to explain its failure to comply with the order’s ban on a hiring ‘freeze.’ County attorneys respond that the jail is not under a hiring freeze and Shoob’s monitor only misunderstood the practice of requiring a form to be completed before an opening is filled.
May to December 2012: Fulton commissioners initially reject a proposal to spend $6.5 million to replace more than 1,300 substandard locks, saying it’s too much to ask of taxpayers, they say, and inmates could be controlled with better supervision. But in December they vote 5-2 to spend $5 million to replace the locks.
January 2013: Commissioners vote to eliminate funding to outsource inmates to other jails, saying the inmate population has fallen below the court-imposed cap of 2,500. Jail officials predict inmates will soon be sleeping on the floor.
August 2013: The Southern Center for Human Rights threatens to take Fulton County back to court over jail overcrowding, saying scores of inmates are again sleeping on the floor. The commission votes to lease the Union City jail to ease overcrowding.