ATLANTA – The Chief Judge of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit has proposed that Fulton County Commissioners approve a cost-saving plan that would greatly reduce the population of the overcrowded Fulton County Jail.
“Our strategy is to dramatically reduce the jail population from 2606 (outsourcing and main jail population) to 1200 by July 1st of 2010,” Chief Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs wrote in an email sent Tuesday to Fulton Commissioners.
The Fulton County Jail, which is under federal court order to reduce the jail’s population to some 2200, is the largest single item in the Fulton County Justice System budget. Each day an inmate is held at the jail costs the county a minimum of $72. The county also must pay to house excess inmates above the court-ordered maximum in other Georgia jails.
Fulton justice system officials were notified on Nov. 18 that their portion of the county’s 2010 budget, which begins Jan. 1, would have to be cut by 25 percent or some $55 million. Chief Judge Downs and Fulton County District Attorney Paul L Howard Jr. and other justice system officials responded by saying that absorbing cuts of that magnitude would devastate each agency individually and have unacceptable systemic repercussions.
On Dec. 9, County budget officials returned with a proposal that the criminal justice system be cut by 11.7% or $25.4 million. Meeting almost daily since then justice system officials fashioned a plan that Judge Downs said will meet the county’s goal, if the justice system is allowed to retain current funding levels.
“We are proposing expediting the processing of the criminal cases in the next 6 months so that the jail population is reduced to 1200 inmates by July 1st of 2010. We believe that this goal is attainable but only if we are able to retain our employees and re-engineer the way we work together,” she wrote. “In short, we are prepared to run a marathon to achieve the savings needed through the jail budget. This is the only way we see to achieve savings without crippling our justice system. We cannot run the marathon without our legs---our employees!”
Fulton Commissioners are expected to consider the justice system proposal at a 10 a.m. Wednesday meeting.
Following is the full text of Chief Judge Down’s letter to Commissioners and the justice system’s jail reduction strategy:
As the Administrative Judge of this State's Fifth Judicial District as well as the Chief Judge of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, I am proposing on behalf of the Fulton County Justice System that we be allowed to present a plan for achieving the budget cuts required of our justice system. Our plan is attached. Our strategy is to dramatically reduce the jail population from 2606 (outsourcing and main jail population) to 1200 by July 1st of 2010.
We are aware that Fulton County is facing a serious budget shortfall. At present, it is my understanding that all County budgets are facing a cut of approximately 1.7% consisting of the unpaid holidays for all employees in 2010. At present, the justice system partners have been asked to cut an additional 10% from their budgets.
The Clerk of the Superior Court will have to eliminate 33 temporary positions and 18 permanent positions ($1.5 million). The District Attorney will have to eliminate 20 temporary positions and 30 permanent positions OR take 48 furlough days (one day each week) which amounts to a 25% pay cut for all DA employees. ($2.2 million) The Public Defender will have to eliminate 15 positions ($1.57 million).The Superior Court will have to eliminate at least 15 employees and as of yet an undetermined number of additional layoffs. We will lose employees in programs that save the county money such as Pretrial, Drug Court, Mental Health Court ($2.475 million).
As you are aware each of the justice agencies are closely connected in that an impact on any one of our budgets impacts our ability as a whole to move the business. We are truly all part of the same pipeline with no control over the numbers of cases coming in. If the 10 percent cuts are taken from each budget in January of 2010, our ability to process the criminal, domestic and civil cases will be significantly affected. This will no doubt result in a sharp increase in the jail population and a sharp increase in costs to the taxpayer. This will certainly not achieve the savings that are needed in the coming year's budget.
We have been meeting non-stop since we learned of the budget shortfall in order to present a plan that will save the county significant money without dismantling our justice system. We are proposing expediting the processing of the criminal cases in the next 6 months so that the jail population is reduced to 1200 inmates by July 1st of 2010. We believe that this goal is attainable but only if we are able to retain our employees and re-engineer the way we work together. If we are forced to eliminate critical employees, the cost to the County will increase with the resulting increase in the jail population.
In short, we are prepared to run a marathon to achieve the savings needed through the jail budget. This is the only way we see to achieve savings without crippling our justice system. We cannot run the marathon without our legs---our employees! Please carefully consider our proposal. We are continuing to meet to improve the proposal. All of us are available if you should have any questions.
Jail Reduction Strategy Guiding Principles
The Fulton County Jail, when built, was widely criticized as being too small for the Fulton County criminal population.
Overcrowding at the jail has led to several lawsuits including the current consent decree.
The inability of the system to dispose of cases has exacerbated the jail overcrowding problem.
The Justice Management Institute, a leading criminal justice system consultant, identified as one of the key elements to lasting system improvement, the need to set goals regarding the Fulton County jail population and composition.
On November 18, 2009, the Fulton County Budget Commission announced that for FY2010 it was expected that current expenditures would drastically exceed expected revenue (-$146 million) requiring an across-the-board 25% reduction in county budgets.
Collectively, the Criminal Justice System was asked to reduce budgetary expenditures by $55 million — translating to 980 positions.
Absorbing cuts of this magnitude would devastate each department individually and have systemic repercussions.
Through exploring other cost-saving mechanisms, the Budget Commission announced on December 9, 2009, the criminal justice system portion of budget reductions would amount to 11.7% or $25.4 million.
This current financial crisis has inspired a willingness among all Fulton County criminal justice agencies to identify systemic ways to save money without adversely impacting individual departments and the criminal justice system.
What follows are the Fulton County Criminal Justice System cost-saving recommendations and strategies.
Jail Reduction Strategy
Remove inmates convicted of state crimes from the Fulton County Jail after a maximum period of ten (10) days.
Eliminate the outsourcing of inmates by February 1, 2010 (savings of $8 million).
Establish jail case processing standards such that each category of inmate has a time frame for housing which cannot be exceeded (see Case Processing Standards).
Implement a Temporary Emergency Court to reduce the jail population by 1,300 inmates by July 1, 2010 (savings of $15 million through food/health contracts and the elimination of vacant positions).
Support the acquisition of the City of Atlanta Jail so that the facility can be used as the initial screening location for defendants and a portion of the facility can be used to create a restitution center where all low-risk Fulton County Jail inmates could be transferred.
Establish a multi-departmental jail reduction team to work with the Sheriff’s staff to monitor the jail population on a daily basis in order to maintain the jail population at 1,200 inmates.
Failure to reduce the jail population as outlined will result in a 10% across-the-board budget reduction for all Fulton County criminal justice agencies beginning July 1, 2010.
Jail Case Processing Standards
Death penalty – 2 years
Maximum Complex Felony Cases – 365 days
Medium Complex Felony Cases – 280 days
Mildly Complex Felony Cases – 120 days
Non Complex Felony Cases – 60 days
Misdemeanor Maximum Complex Violent Cases – 60 days
Misdemeanor Medium Complex Cases – 30 days
All other Misdemeanor cases – 48 hours
Fulton County Criminal Justice Agencies
Doris (Dee) Downs
Chief Judge, Superior Court
Sheriff, Fulton County
Cathelene “Tina” Robinson
Clerk, Superior Court
Paul L. Howard, Jr.
Chief Judge, State Court