FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Since July, more than five inmates have died at the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street.
One solution being considered to address concern is using wristbands to monitor inmates’ vital signs and alert guards if an inmate is in crisis.
However, according to documents obtained by 11Alive, a system featuring such technology was supposed to be installed and running within 10 weeks from when the contract was established in April. And that deadline came and went in July with the system still not live.
During an address to the county commission in April, Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat spoke on what he called the emergent need for such technology.
"If we don't do something, people will continue to die at the Fulton County Jail," Labat added.
That presentation occurred shortly after details were released surrounding the investigation into an inmate who died amid an insect infestation in his cell.
Labat went to commissioners to discuss how the Talitrix system could help monitor inmates’ health, using devices similar to a smartwatch that tracks inmates’ vitals and alerts staff if someone is in trouble.
Commissioners approved the plan that same day, with nearly $2 million in emergency funding. According to a copy of the contract that 11Alive obtained, those funds would pay for 1,000 watches for Rice Street inmates, as well as the installation of the system, which should have been live within 10 weeks.
“We authorized an excess of $2 million for this purpose, and I have seen nothing for that expenditure," said Fulton County Commission Chair Rob Pitts.
After inquiring about the system in August, following another inmate passing away, allegedly from cardiac arrest, 11Alive once again posed questions to the sheriff’s office about whether the contract terms were met, but to no answer. Instead, we turned to Chairman Pitts for answers.
"I don’t know where the project is, that’s the whole problem," he added. "I don’t know where it is, again I didn’t support it. My conscience is clear, someone needs to come forward and tell us what’s happening with the $2 million plus that we spent to buy these bracelets."
Talitrix’s CEO Justin Hawkins confirmed that about 15 devices are being used in Fulton County’s jail annex in Alpharetta. But, according to the contract, the emergency funding was specifically allocated for devices to be used at the Rice Street jail. According to Talitrix, the system is not up at Rice Street.
“The entire situation is frustrating because people are passing away,” Hawkins said.
He added the company is working to get the system online but has encountered unforeseen delays due to the jail infrastructure and staffing concerns.
“There was an unbelievable staffing shortage, and obviously they have a lot of violence going on there currently, so really it was relocating inmates so that our infrastructure team could go in there and fix the conduit and the wiring and really deploy the infrastructure that was paid for,” he explained.
Hawkins went on to note they’re now at the stage where they are ready to begin monitoring 50-75 inmates.
“We’re going to be up and running Monday, it’s better late than never," he added.