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Federal Court Finally Ends Oversight at Fulton County Jail

Three years ago, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) moved to dismiss its federal contempt of court proceeding that cited staff shortages, broken locks and an overcrowding problem that resulted in prisoners sleeping on the floor at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia. Since that October 2013 filing, the jail has “come into compliance” on two of the three issues, stated SCHR attorney Melanie Velez.

The county replaced all the faulty locks and outsourced prisoners to other facilities. This decreased the number of staff needed at the jail, but county officials acknowledged they still had to hire additional guards. The dismissal of the contempt proceeding required the county to submit a plan to address staffing needs, and the federal district court continued to monitor the jail.

The court had previously found inhumane conditions at the facility and approved a consent decree in 2006; those conditions included inadequate medical care, violence, severe overcrowding, understaffing and problems with the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. [See: PLN, Sept. 2007, p.36; March 2005, p.22].

The case was finally terminated on May 12, 2015 after 11 years of litigation and court oversight, at an estimated cost to county taxpayers of more than $1 billion. The county not only replaced all of the cell locks at the jail, but also repaired or replaced the plumbing, HVAC, electrical wiring and elevator systems. The SCHR had argued against ending the consent decree, claiming that staffing problems still resulted in “ongoing unconstitutional conditions.” The district court, however, determined the county was in substantial compliance. See: Harper v. Bennett, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:04-cv-01416-TWT.

PLN sued the Fulton County Jail in 2007 for censoring all non-religious publications; the lawsuit settled in April 2010, with the county agreeing to pay damages and PLN’s attorney fees. [See: PLN, June 2010, p.32; Dec. 2007, p.30].

Sources: Daily Report,, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Related legal case

Harper v. Bennett