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Georgia Inmate’s Death Highlights Systemic Failures Within Fulton County Jail

A Fulton County, Georgia inmate’s recent death highlights systematic failures within Fulton’s jail and across its criminal justice system, Dylan Jackson reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Samuel Lawrence was arrested for arson the day after Christmas last year and spent roughly eight months in jail having never faced formal charges. He was found dead in his cell in August, the victim of strangulation allegedly at the hands of another inmate. 

The strains on the system began during the pandemic as the court case backlog ballooned the jail population. Critics of District Attorney Fani Willis and Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat say they have not done enough to address the problems driving a tide of deaths in the jail, despite receiving tens of millions in additional taxpayer dollars from the county. Over the past two years, 24 people have died in the custody of the Fulton County sheriff. This represents a significant increase from the past five years, which averaged three or four deaths per year. The spike in deaths has drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Georgia legislature, which have announced investigations into the troubled facility in recent months. The county continues to look for ways to tackle the persistent backlog that has been blamed for driving the overcrowding and violence.

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