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Fulton County sheriff discusses jail, steps needed to improve living conditions for inmates

Just days after Lashawn Thompson's family spoke out, Sheriff Labat requested the resignations of several of the jail's staff.

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Prior to Sheriff "Pat" Labat's takeover of Fulton County jail, the facility had already garnered a reputation for its poor conditions. Two years into his tenure, Labat defends the decisions he's made with the funds available to him. 

The Fulton County sheriff sat down with 11Alive's Doug Richards to discuss the ongoing issues plaguing the jail. This comes after recent allegations made by family members that their relative, Lashawn Thompson, died at the jail after he was eaten alive by bedbugs and other insects. 

Just days after the family spoke out, Labat requested the resignations of several of the jail's staff. He also announced plans to explore the possibility of switching medical providers for inmates in the jail's custody. 

While Labat contends that Thompson's remains were discovered last September, he claims he couldn't request those resignations until more preliminary details came to light. 

"Everyone's afforded due process, we needed to get all the facts," Labat said. "Instead of being expedient or trying to rush to judgement, we wanted to get as many facts as we could."

Labat said he has created an inmate advocacy unit, staffed by a deputy and three civilian sheriff's office employees. He said the unit is tasked to examine living conditions and mental health issues of individual inmates. He said he unit will also track the duration of jail stays for detainees who haven't been adjudicated in the court system.

During the sit down, the Fulton County sheriff expressed concerns about the ongoing problems plaguing the jail, like overcrowding, which he said can lead to infestations and the spread of illness among inmates. 

Labat claims that for him to make the necessary changes, he needs to hire better jail staff, replace the health vendor and receive more funding from the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. 

“I’ve said this to the board of commissioners, they've taken tours [of the facility],” Labat said. “I’ve said this specifically to the chairman." 

“I was very, very direct when I said, ‘Our budget needs to exceed $200 million so that we could focus on these very things’ and it was the board of commissioners and the administration that decided where the budget should land," he said. 

The sheriff's office current budget sits at $140.2 million after an $11.2 million budget increase was approved in 2023. 

In the meanwhile, Labat said the internal investigation into Thompson's death will continue while they work to hire new jail staff. The county will have to to fill several positions including the chief jailer, assistant chief jailer and the assistant chief jailer for the Criminal Investigative Division.

In addition to replacing the former jail staff, Labat is looking into the possibility of changing medical vendors so inmates can receive better care. 

"This old way of warehousing individuals need to be modernized," Labat said, with particular emphasis on mental health, reentry and inmate's medical conditions.

In addition to the internal investigation being conducted by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, the Atlanta Police Department will also investigate Thompson's death. Once those findings are concluded, the information will be presented to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for review.

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