Fulton Jail Avoids Possible Contempt Charge
BY DAVID STOKES
After nearly ten years of political wrangling among county leaders and jurists at the federal Richard B. Russell Building on Spring Street, Fulton Co. can breathe easier now that a human rights advocacy group has nearly altogether dismissed their lawsuit against the county, indicating, originally in 1989, that county jail inmates faced overcrowding issues, along with dilapidated maintenance concerns of the almost 35 year old jail, and, in particular, poor staffing issues by sheriff's deputies which allegedly compromised inmate safety.
As the lawsuit initially file ten years ago this summer comes to a probable close, with the federal judge's latest action being dismissing a charge of contempt against county leaders to remedy and resolve jail issues, the county jail is near completion of being rehabilitated with maintenance, faulty cell locks and the lack of adequate staff within the Rice Street, NW Atlanta facility. The Southern Center for Human Rights' lawsuit of 2004 was filed as inmates aggressively complained, in particular, of having to sleep on mats on the floor due to the jail's overcrowding, thereby, exceeding its 2,500 maximum capacity. During the years leading to the lawsuit being filed, inmates have slept on the floor of the five-story edifice erected in 1989. In a recent federal court order, issued in 2011 by District Court Judge Marvin Schoob, a court monitor, Calvin Lightfoot, monthly provide reports of the jail's progress to indicate how and when improvements would come in the jail, including substituting old cell locks and replacing the jail's air conditioning and heating units. The Southern Center for Human Rights lawsuit, furthermore, in conjunction with defendant Georgia Department of Corrections, indicated the Fulton jail was a "dirty and dangerous" domicile unfit for human consumption. Two years later following the filing, in 2006, Judge Schoob signed a consent order mandating million$ in renovations/remedies, along with an equal ratio of jail staff for the inmate total within each eight hour shift (7am. to 3pm., 3 to 11pm. and 11pm. to 7am.). Ultimately, Fulton Co. has spent million$ to rent space for inmates at municipal jails, i.e., in Hapeville and Union City, among others, as well as from other Georgia counties, DeKalb and Clayton among them. Along with the overcrowding concern, faulty cell locks on pod doors have rattled commissioners with resolving the issue by amenable solutions. Nevertheless, last summer, the county's board of commissioners, chaired by John Eaves, Ph.D., awarded a $5 million contract for replacement of over 1,200 faulty cell locks to maintain law-and-order within cell pods and avoid possible assaults on guards and other jail staff. All of the locks are scheduled to be installed and operable by Jan. 1, Eaves indicated last year.
Other concerns initiating the lawsuit were repairs of jail essentials, including the air conditioning and heat and its new equipment installation. Another major concern was jail staffing viewed as inadequate, accompanied with low morale by deputies of the jail at the Rice Street facility. As the court will continue to monitor ongoing progress of the jail pertaining to the aforementioned, the motion to hold county and jail leaders in contempt is being quashed by the recommendation of both the Southern Center and county leaders since major jail improvements now have been performed. According to documents on file in federal District court, staff levels for the jail have improved, but are not adequate; therefore, Judge Thomas Thrash, last week on Aug. 15, gave Fulton until December 31 to meet full compliance with staff levels already ordered by the court by Judge Schoob via the jail monitor. Southern Center for Human Rights officials further stated they will dismiss their lawsuit from court pending all requirements are completed for jail rehabilitation and restoration, with another "six to 12 months" offered to elapse when all remedies are expected to have been fulfilled. In a statement after the contempt charge dismissal, Chairman Eaves said, "The contempt dismissal agreement is in acknowledgement of the hard work that has been done to resolve several issues inside the jail. Faulty locks have been replaced, and we have worked extensively to alleviate overcrowding." Eaves continued, "We continue to work with the jail monitor, the sheriff and lawsuit plaintiffs to resolve the remaining issues in the facility with the goal being eventually removing the county jail from the federal consent decree oversight." From the Southern Center for Human Rights, Managing Attorney Melanie Velez said in a statement, "Although the jail remains understaffed which is a critical area of concern, positive steps have been taken by the county and the sheriff to address this and other concerns. We hope this improvement continues and that the people detained in the jail, as well as those who work there, are kept safe."
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CAU Hosts Young African Leaders Initiative
From June 14 - July 25, Clark Atlanta University was one of only 20 US host schools for the Washington Fellowship For Young African Leaders Program. There were about 25 participants on the CAU campus. This is one of President Obama's programs and it is designed to further empower and bolster young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring and networking concentrating on civic leadership, business and entrepreneurship, and public management. Clark Atlanta is the only HBCU and the only university in Georgia to host this prestigious program. Pictured: Young African Leaders Program attendees relaxing on the campus of Clark Atlanta University during their last day of the program.
PHOTO/TEXT BY HORACE HENRY
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Hundreds Attend Code Enforcement Summit
ATLANTA—More than 300 residents and stakeholders attended the City of Atlanta’s Code Enforcement Summit on Saturday, August 16 at the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center.
The meeting was organized by Atlanta City Councilmember Felicia Moore and co-sponsored by City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and City Councilmembers Mary Norwood, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Natalyn Archibong, C.T. Martin, Kwanza Hall, Joyce Sheperd, Andre Dickens and Cleta Winslow.
The purpose of summit was to explain the procedures involved in restoring distressed properties and the importance of community involvement in reporting these issues. Questions and concerns about existing code violations were also addressed.
Agencies and departments in attendance included the Office of Code Compliance, the city Solicitor’s Office, the Municipal Courts, the Department of Public Works’ S.W.E.E.T. Team, Atlanta Fire Rescue, and representatives from the city’s newly established Code Enforcement Commission.
“We wanted to bring those in charge of code enforcement out to speak with residents so they can understand the challenges our department faces when dealing with code violators, and we wanted city personnel to understand the challenges our communities go through when those violations aren’t corrected,” Councilmember Moore said. “We are pleased at the attendance which demonstrates that code enforcement is a major concern among our constituents.”
The summit focused on a variety of code enforcement issues from open, dilapidated, and vacant structures to illegally dumped tires, rooming houses and more.
In an effort to address violations throughout the city, the Code Enforcement Division of the Atlanta Police Department has developed a priority list of blighted properties that are to be demolished or cleaned and closed based on public safety concerns and the physical condition of the structures.
The Atlanta City Council amended the 2015 Budget to include additional funds for the remediation of blighted properties throughout Atlanta by appropriating $4,695,000 for blight remediation in the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget to assist in eliminating the problem of which $2,095,000 is specifically dedicated to the demolition of properties.
The Office of Code Compliance has also provided a list of 19 extremely high priority blighted properties that have existing demolition orders that need to be taken care of immediately.
“This city council is committed to restoring the quality of life of all our communities and through meetings such as the recent summit, we will develop an effective plan of action that will allow for the most strategic and effective use of our resources,” said Moore. “To achieve this goal, citizen participation is essential.”