The cell door locks are the same age as the jail — 24 years — and are what Chief Jailer Col. Mark Adger described as “medium security.” Inmates have been able to pick the lock, essentially, and exit their cell.
In 2011, Adger said there were at least 40 instances of unauthorized exits by inmates — five of which were violent, with either an inmate attacking a staff member or another inmate.
Controlling inmates extends beyond the functionality of locks, however, but Adger defended security program improvements made during the last three years.
“We have increased the amount of security rounds we do and the types of security rounds we do,” he said.
Corrections staff has beefed up cell shakedowns and began using equipment to better detect hidden contraband items that may be used to tamper with the locks, as well as adding other improvements that have caused a “substantial reduction” in issues with inmates.
However, the locks are still a necessity, Adger said.
“My staff at the Fulton County jail, on a daily basis, is working around very dangerous individuals,” he said. “Anything we can do to mitigate that danger should be pursued.”
The replacement of the cell door locks is $5 million and would be expected to last for the remaining lifetime of the jail — another 24 to 25 years.
District 5 Commissioner Emma Darnell made the motion to deny the request, with the understanding that another more cost-effective solution be sought.
“I wish I lived in a world where dollars did not matter,” she said. “More simply, I wish this government could take the steps necessary to protect the health and safety of the people of this county without any consideration of dollars.
“However, the dollars are not there.”
Chairman John Eaves said this issue is too crucial to avoid fixing.
“This is a safety issue and it’s important in terms of protecting the lives of people,” he said.
The vote ended in a split. Darnell, District 7 Commissioner Bill Edwards and District 2 Commissioner Robb Pitts all voted to deny the request. District 3 Commissioner Liz Hausmann, Eaves and District 6 Commissioner Joan Garner voted to grant the request.
District 4 Commissioner Tom Lowe was not present.
Without four votes either for or against the request, the item will be on the agenda of the next commission meeting Dec. 19.
The locks in question are only on cell doors and do not control access in and out of the facility itself.