The Fulton County Jail where Donald Trump and 18 of his co-defendants were booked over their plot to overturn the election results in Georgia has been beset by violence and neglect and is the subject of a civil rights investigation following several inmate deaths.
Mr Trump and 18 co-conspirators – lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Jenna Ellis and ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows among them – were formally charged with racketeering by Atlanta prosecutor Fani Willis over their alleged attempts to alter the presidential election result in the swing state in 2020 after it turned blue for Joe Biden.
The ousted former president, still the front-runner for the Republican 2024 nomination despite his array of legal problems, is charged with 13 of the 41 counts in Ms Willis’s indictment and faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted.
Mr Trump was booked at the jail on 24 August and had his first mug shot taken. He later pleaded not guilty to the charges and waived his arraignments in the case. He also pleaded not guilty following his three previous indictments in New York, Miami and Washington DC.
A bond agreement was struck, sparing Mr Trump from having to stay overnight in jail, as is the usual custom. It is just as well for Mr Trump, a well-known germaphobe, that he didn’t have to spend an evening at Fulton County Jail, also known by the nickname “Rice Street” as it is notoriously overcrowded and in poor repair, with a reputation for “unhygienic living conditions”.
One inmate was killed in a mass stabbing at the jail on 31 August. Natalie Ammons at the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office told CNN that the situation was “under control” by Thursday afternoon and an investigation was now underway.
It is the fifth death of a Fulton County Jil inmate since the end of July, according to the news network.
One detainee died on 26 August, just days after having filed a civil rights complaint on 22 August claiming that excessive force was being used, according to 11Alive.
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has said that at least 16 inmates have died since the death of LaSawn Thompson on 13 September 2022. The Department of Justice opened its civil rights investigation on 13 July of this year.
Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said in a statement: “The humanitarian crisis at the Fulton County Rice Street Jail is not new. Recognizing the systemic concerns that have plagued the Fulton County Jail for decades, I contacted DOJ’s National Institute of Corrections (NIC) in September of 2022 making an urgent request for a security audit, technical assistance and support surrounding the circumstances at the jail.”
“It’s miserable. It’s cold. It smells. It’s just generally unpleasant,” veteran defence attorney Robert G Rubin told The New York Times about the jail. “Plus, there’s a high degree of anxiety for any defendant that’s in that position.”
The facility was considered state of the art when it was built in 1985 to hold 1,300 inmates. In recent years, it has been forced to house closer to 3,000 people, with an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report from September 2022 observing that hundreds of people were being held at Fulton County Jail for longer than 90 days because they had not yet been formally charged or could not afford to pay off their bail bond.
Another 117 had been held for more than a year because they had not been indicted and two more for over two years for the same reason, the report said.
Fallon McClure, deputy director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Georgia, told the BBC the jail had “essentially been overcrowded since it was built”.
“This has just been a perpetual cycle over and over for years,” she added, expressing pessimism that a long-touted $1.7bn replacement containment facility would ever be built.
“There’s been a lot of talk of cleaning it up. We have not really seen or heard anything particularly significant. It seems like a lot of posturing.”
Another recent report by the Southern Center for Human Rights recounted outbreaks of Covid-19, lice, scabies and cachexia, an affliction otherwise known as wasting syndrome, which hits those who are “significantly malnourished”.
Multiple people have died in Fulton County custody this year, including 19-year-old Noni Battiste-Kosoko in July and a 34-year-old man who was found unconscious in a medical unit cell last week.
In September last year, another inmate, Lashawn Thompson, 35, died after being housed in a cell his lawyer likened to a “torture chamber”.