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Proposal for new Fulton County Jail comes with $1.7B price tag

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The quality of care and repair needs of the Fulton County Jail have been a much-discussed issue for officials and the public for years, but that discussion has grown more heated in recent months.

A series of headlines focused on the jail facility, covering issues ranging from structural damage to inmate attacks and deaths have led to a back-and-forth between the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and the Fulton County Commission. The latest proposal county commissioners were given had a price tag between $1.7 and $2 billion.

The proposal was presented Wednesday, pitched as Sheriff Pat Labat’s “Vision for a New Facility that provides a Safe, Humane, and Sustainable Environment reflecting Best Practices in Pre-Trial Detention.”

According to the proposal deck, the new facility would increase the number of beds available to detainees while replacing the current jail location on Rice Street.

The feasibility study provided for the presentation says explicitly that the jail is “obsolete, overcrowded, deteriorated, and unsafe.”

In 2023, the sheriff’s office confirmed the jail has at various points lost power, had holes broken through walls by inmates, attacks on staff by inmates, suffered several incidents of inmate-on-inmate violence, and had 10 people in sheriff’s office custody die.

The jail’s quality was already a point of concern for members of the Fulton County Commission, but was noted during a series of high-profile court events as well, and is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Among the various high-profile events involving the jail were the RICO prosecutions of former President Donald Trump and 18 others, and the trial of Atlanta rapper Young Thug and the alleged “Young Slime Life” gang.

The Georgia Senate has also set up a special committee to investigate issues at the jail in recent weeks.

Since his election as sheriff, Labat has said the jail needed serious help to fix the problems inmates, staff and officials are experiencing and observing within it, and has repeatedly asked for the funding to take steps to address it. The commission and the sheriff have not seen eye to eye on the issue’s solutions.

An audit of the jail revealed “flooded cells from burst pipes behind the walls, exposed wiring and crumbling infrastructure, among other problems.”

To address the needs of Fulton County’s inmates, the sheriff’s office said making a new facility is the best option, citing a need for better medical treatment options focused on mental health and recovery support, as well as working to help those in custody better reenter normal populations after serving time behind bars.

As proposed, the new jail would have 4,416 beds, split between 3,920 for men and 496 for women.

Of that, the sheriff’s proposal shows a split between standard beds and medical and mental health beds. The proposal also includes provisions to provide more space for each detainee and to increase dedicated housing for mental health treatment.

The new jail, if approved for construction, would be almost four times larger than the current facility on Rice Street, according to the proposal. The plan notes that the detainee population is expected to grow, while additional detainees “will continue to be outsourced.”

The proposal said operating costs were expected to include driving up to 900 detainees per day, while showing the jail currently has a 16% staff vacancy, with recruitment and retention challenges. Maintenance and repair needs were also said to be a constraint in assumptions for 2024 to 2028.

If approved, the new jail would be completely built by 2029, with the sheriff’s office saying as more staff are hired, outsourcing of detainees would decrease. However, operating the jail was also reported to have an increased cost of 24.9% from 2028 to 2031 due to some of the needs and planned changes within the proposal.

Costs forecast for the process came in at over $1.75 billion, if “optimal.”

Those costs include:

  • Sitework Cost $30,995,000: Includes 20 acres of site development and demolition of low-rise buildings only
  • Construction Cost $1,174,942,000
  • Soft Costs $294,550,000
  • Total Project Cost: Q4 2023 $1,500,487,000: Range of Expected Cost: (-15% / +20%) per AACE Estimate Classifications
  • Cost per Bed: Q4 2023 $339,800
  • Escalated Project Cost: Q3 2029 $1,756,032,000: 4% Escalation applied through the anticipated mid-point of construction
  • Cost per Bed: Q3 2029 $397,700

The full proposal is publicly available online.


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