In October, a Georgia inmate named Shamar McLeroy was found dead in his cell, his hands and feet bound, in a death officials are investigation as a homicide.
The 21-year-old was facing charges of child molestation and public indecency, but his family says this shouldn’t mean that his time in an Atlanta-area jail was a death sentence.
“I want to see justice, something needs to be done, Fulton County Jail should be held accountable for what happened to my nephew,” his aunt Serintha Gray told WSBTV
At least 14 people have died in Atlanta-area jails since the beginning of the year, according to an analysis of Fulton County data, part of a jail overcrowding issue that critics have labeled a “humanitarian crisis.”
All of those who have died have been Black, and there have been four times as many deaths in custody as last year, with four dead in November alone, a one-month record, the publication found. Only three of the deaths have been homicides.
“As these custodial deaths are still under investigation, no further information or statements will be made available regarding these matters at this time,” an attorney for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jails, told The Appeal.
The deaths are part of a larger crisis unfolding in the Atlanta area’s overcrowded jails, where hundreds of inmates have been forced to sleep in cots on the floor, and numerous people have been harmed in prison stabbings.
In August, the Atlanta city council controversially approved an agreement to lease 700 beds in a prison that was headed towards refurbishment as a community center.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a jail population study as part of the agreement about using the Atlanta City Detention City found that 3,462 people held in Fulton County hails were on charges eligible for prison diversion programmes. Numerous reviewed cases were because low-income people on the inside weren’t able to pay bond set at $15,000. One person spent a year-and-a-half behind bars over bond issues, including large stretches of time where they hadn’t been indicted yet. More than a third of Fulton County prisoners had a misdemeanor as their most serious charge.
The score of deaths inside Atlanta jails has prompted a larger fight about the $7.8m Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD), a multi-agency programme allowing officials to divert low-level offenders or those committing crime out of necessity to get housing and other services instead of prison time.
As local police agencies have pushed for more jail beds, some Atlanta city council members have threatened to pull funding for PAD, arguing their efforts will be canceled out by the prison expansion deal.