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The new court-appointed manager of Georgia’s Fulton County Jail begins his tenure with a vote of confidence both from the county and from the public interest group that is suing over jail conditions. In a five-page order, U.S. District Senior Judge Marvin H. Shoob named Jonesboro, Ga., resident John Gibson, a 20-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to oversee the day-to-day operations of the 14-year-old, chronically overcrowded jail. Gibson, who was recommended to Shoob by Fulton County Attorney Overtis Hicks “O.V.” Brantley, replaces Fulton County Sheriff Jacquelyn H. Barrett as the jail’s chief supervisor. In a recent letter to Shoob, Barrett had suggested that transferring her responsibilities for jail operations to a court-appointed receiver would be a “positive step.” Barrett will remain as sheriff, but she no longer will have authority over jail operations, budget or staff. On Wednesday, Stephen B. Bright, the executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights — which is representing jail inmates in a suit against the sheriff and the county — and Brantley said in separate interviews that they were optimistic about improving the jail’s conditions under Gibson’s direction. Both Brantley and Bright were present when Shoob interviewed Gibson before his appointment. “Personally, I absolutely agree with Judge Shoob that he is the man for the job,” Brantley said. “First of all, his experience is great. I believe he knows how to run a jail.” She continued: “More important to me, he presents as a very, very high-energy kind of person, a take-charge kind of person. And, above all, I believe he will be fair and listen to all points of view.” Bright called Gibson “very dynamic.” “I think it’s wise on Judge Shoob’s part,” Bright continued. “Our hope is it’s going to work, it’s going to solve problems there. Having someone who has the respect of the county commission is certainly conducive to resolving these problems in an amicable way � as opposed to fighting about the problem.” In his order, Shoob also expressed confidence in Gibson, who he described as “the best choice for the difficult task ahead.” “If anyone can fix the problems at the Fulton County Jail, the Court believes Mr. Gibson can,” the judge stated. Gibson met Wednesday afternoon with Fulton County Commission Chairwoman Karen Handel and Brantley. He could not be reached for comment. POWER TO HIRE, FIRE AND IMPROVE Shoob’s appointment gives Gibson the power to hire, fire and discipline jail employees “and the power to make all budgetary and other decisions ordinarily entrusted to the sheriff.” But the judge also mandated that Gibson’s first task will be to “take every step reasonably necessary” to correct jail conditions cited by a jail monitor in reports released last week and in May. Those improvements will include reducing the jail’s population from 3,233, as of Tuesday, to 2,250; repairing and maintaining the jail’s plumbing, air-conditioning, ventilation, and electrical systems; and providing “a sufficient number of trained and qualified staff to adequately protect the health and safety of both inmates and staff.” The judge also put the Fulton County Commission on notice in his order that if Gibson needs more cooperation — or money — from the county, he can seek a court order. Gibson will be paid $10,000 a month and have a county car at his disposal. The sheriff is currently paid an annual salary of $135,155. WHAT NEW MANAGER FACES AT JAIL Shoob’s order is part of ongoing litigation filed earlier this year by Southern Center lawyers on behalf of jail inmates. That litigation is the second suit in four years that the center has filed to improve jail conditions. The suit seeks immediately to end overcrowding that routinely pushes the jail population above 3,000; to provide adequate medical care and security for inmates; and to repair inadequate and overtaxed plumbing, electrical and ventilation systems. Harper v. Bennett, No. 1:04CV1416 (N.D. Ga. May 19, 2004). A separate suit filed in April on behalf of former inmates is also pending against the sheriff and the county. That suit, Powell v. Barrett, No. 1:04CV1100 (N.D. Ga., April 21, 2004), is seeking monetary damages for inmates strip-searched while in the jail or whose release was delayed by an alleged failure to process bonds, warrants, case dismissals and other paperwork in a timely fashion. A new report by jail monitor Dr. Robert B. Greifinger released Monday said that there has been “no substantial change” in the jail’s “dismal environmental conditions” since he described it six weeks ago as being “in a state of crisis.” In a July 12 report assessing the jail’s conditions, Greifinger said that as of July 7 nearly 500 inmates were classified as “without beds” and were housed in day rooms in bunks or on the floor. He also described “a vicious cycle of daily failures” of the jail’s cooling system due to overcrowding, inadequate air-handling systems and inadequate moisture control that has kept jail temperatures hovering at 90 degrees or higher. Greifinger also documented an abundance of toxic mold, a “fragile” electrical system with insufficient power, inadequate supervision of inmates and inadequate sanitation that puts both staff and inmates “at substantial risk of illness or injury.” EXPERIENCE CLINCHED SUPPORT According to his r�sum�, Gibson has the experience necessary to tackle the Fulton jail’s problems. For four years, he managed day-to-day operations of a 1,000-bed unit housing pretrial detainees and a yearly budget of $1.2 million at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta. Prior to that, he served as acting associate warden of correctional services at the federal penitentiary there, supervising more than 400 correctional officers and a $24 million annual budget, according to his r�sum�. Gibson also has supervised day-to-day security operations at one of the BOP’s pretrial detention jails in New York City. In that post, he oversaw construction of a high-security unit that housed suspected terrorists awaiting trial for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Brantley said that although county commissioners individually had proposed a number of potential candidates for the receiver post, after meeting in a private session recently, “Mr. Gibson emerged as the consensus candidate based on his r�sum�.” Chairwoman Handel, who repeatedly has called for Barrett’s resignation, described Gibson as “someone we can all have a good deal of trust in and all work well with.” Handel said that as commissioners reviewed possible candidates, “everyone wanted to be sure we had an individual who had extensive jail operations experience.” But, she added, “we really thought it was important to have someone not from a sheriff’s department.” The chairwoman also acknowledged that while the commission intends to cooperate with the new receiver, “certainly we are limited, in one sense, in terms of budget constraints.” But, she said, “there is a great deal of willingness to be at the table to work through the issues. � When we can get all the parties to sit down at the table, where there’s a will, there’s a way.” After meeting Gibson on Wednesday, Handel said, “My sense from him is that he really wants to go in and do an assessment and make a list of priorities. � He comes to the table with a great deal of credibility. He has a track record of turning around troubled jails.”

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