Fulton County’s jail problems have become a source of revenue for Hall County.
Since February, nearly a fifth of the inmates in Hall County’s 1,026-bed jail have been from Fulton County, part of a long-standing plan for the jail to bring in about $4 million annually by boarding inmates from other counties.
As of Wednesday, 192 inmates arrested in Fulton County on charges ranging from DUI to aggravated assault were staying in Hall County’s Barber Road lockup. A few times a week, Hall County Sheriff’s transport officers drive to Atlanta and back to pick up or deliver inmates.
The inmates range from low to high security, though no murder suspects from Fulton are being boarded in Hall, officials said.
The arrangement between the two law enforcement agencies comes at a challenging time for the Fulton County Sheriff’s officials, who are under a federal court order to fix what has been described in the past as an overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous facility.
A federal lawsuit was settled by a consent order during the administration of former Fulton County Sheriff Myron Freeman. A provision of the consent order capped the jail population at 2,250 to ease overcrowding, said Fulton County Chief Jailer Riley Taylor, who assumed command of the jail when new Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson took office in January.
When a pair of major renovation projects started at Fulton’s jail, bedspace for some 600 inmates was temporarily displaced, lowering the population cap to 1,638, Taylor said.
"That required us to outsource us a little more than we had," Taylor said.
Fulton’s overflow of about 650 inmates is being boarded in Union City, which has about 200 of the county’s inmates, the Atlanta city jail, with 167, the DeKalb County jail with 99, and the Hall County Jail, with 192.
Hall County Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland said talks of boarding Fulton County inmates came soon after Jackson, the former head of the FBI’s Atlanta field office, took office in January.
"We have a lot of confidence in him and his staff and forged a strong working relationship with them," Strickland said.
The Hall County Jail already had been boarding close to 300 inmates from outside counties prior to the agreement. Strickland said that in the past, outside inmates came from six to eight different locations, but now inmates from Fulton County, Forsyth County and the U.S. Marshals Service make up the bulk of the boarders. About 100 inmates at Hall County’s jail are from Forsyth County, which is also struggling with an aging and overcrowded jail.
Hall County’s jail was completed in 2007 at a cost of $52 million, funded through a voter-approved sales tax. Proponents of the new jail said it would prevent Hall County from paying to board inmates elsewhere.
"We’ve gone from having to pay approximately $2 million a year to board inmates out to bringing in $4 million in revenue to offset the cost of operating the jail," Strickland said.
The Hall County Jail’s annual operating budget is about $15.4 million, Strickland said.
Nearly all operating costs would stay static regardless of whether the jail boarded inmates from Fulton County, Strickland said. The only variable costs are for meals – $2.52 per day, per inmate, and fuel for inmate transports, Strickland said.
In addition to a daily per-inmate fee, Fulton County reimburses Hall County each month for any medical costs incurred by its inmates.
Taylor said the Hall County boarding arrangement was better for Fulton’s inmates, who previously were sent to jails hundreds of miles away in Cook County, Mitchell County and Decatur County.
"As soon as the Hall County beds became available, we ended use of the south Georgia beds, because they were so inconvenient to the families," he said.
The inmates from Fulton are a mixture of those already convicted in court and waiting to be picked up by the state Department of Corrections, those awaiting trial and those jailed on probation violations, Taylor said. Under the terms of the contract, Hall County can return any inmates who pose security or health risks, Taylor said. Strickland said Fulton inmates have not caused "any major issues."
The Fulton and Forsyth inmates are housed throughout the facility. Inmates in the jail are assigned cells according to their security classification, not where they’re from, Strickland said.
Taylor said he hopes to see renovation work at the Fulton County jail completed by the fall.
"Most of our inmates will be able to come back at that point," he said. "But we may be able to use Hall County’s facilities in the future. We hope it would be one of the facilities that would help in our outsourcing needs as we move forward."
Taylor praised the arrangement with Hall Sheriff’s officials.
"Hall County, particularly the jail staff, has been really easy to work with and aided us greatly in meeting our mandate with the federal court," Taylor said.