But a local LGBTQ activist said Labat is “working against the interests of the LGBTQ community” with a push to buy the Atlanta jail to house Fulton inmates.
Labat ousted incumbent Ted Jackson in the Democratic primary runoff in August. He faced no opposition in the November general election and started recruiting for an LGBTQ liaison soon after taking office.
“We want to make sure we have a level of support for our team that really creates an environment that everyone is comfortable with,” he told Project Q Atlanta.
This isn’t Labat’s first time adding an LGBTQ position. He appointed the first LGBTQ liaison to the City of Atlanta’s Department of Corrections as its chief in 2018.
“That was huge for our department,” he said.
A major focus for Labat is customer service at the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street, he said. He’s working with the American Jail Association to update employee sensitivity training regarding LGBTQ, particularly transgender, inmates.
“I believe no one should be mistreated,” he said. “Our current staff are required not just to increase that training, but we are increasing our customer service overall.”
The jail came under fire in recent years for its HIV testing procedures and medical treatment of people with HIV at the facility. Jail officials blocked the use of 1,000 rapid HIV test kits in 2018, and Project Q found that sometimes less than half of inmates with HIV received medication that year.
Now the facility offers new detainees rapid HIV tests during the intake process. Blood tests confirm any positive results. Of the 112 current inmates with HIV — 100, or nearly 90 percent — are on medication, Labat said.
“If anyone is diagnosed while in the facility or feel like they want to start taking the medication, that access is made to them immediately as well,” Labat said.
Fate of Atlanta jail becomes flash point
Labat made headlines in January pushing to derail plans to turn the Atlanta City Detention Center into a wellness center. He wants Fulton to buy the jail — which he ran for 10 years as the city’s corrections chief — and house the overflow of people housed at the county jail there.
That drew the ire of Devin Barrington Ward. For years, the LGBTQ activist pushed to close and repurpose the jail. Black LGBTQ people face more negative experiences with law enforcement, and they represent a disproportionate number of inmates, Ward asserted.
“Sheriff Labat coming in is already working against the interests of the LGBTQ community,” Ward told Project Q. “We had many community listening sessions with the office of the mayor and one of the specific listening sessions was for the LGBTQ community.”
“Hundreds of folks came out to give their perspective on why the facility needs to be repurposed, because that is a pathway to greater public safety,” he added. “The fact that he’s moving in that direction is extremely disappointing.”
The Atlanta City Council is considering two proposals concerning the Atlanta jail — closing it within 15 months and creating a task force to discuss selling the jail to Fulton, according to the AJC.
In 2019, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appointed Ward as one of at least six LGBTQ people on a task force to repurpose the Atlanta jail. Labat also served on the task force.
“I got a lot of respect for Devin,” Labat said. “He and I can agree to disagree. I had a really good conversation with him and [Fulton] Commissioner [Natalie] Hall. The one thing that stands true is we are focused on the well-being of all of our customers.”
Ward also noted that people with HIV are at an increased risk for serious illness due to COVID-19.
“The CDC has already issued guidance that correctional facilities are one of the number one transmitters of the [COVID-19] virus,” he said.
Labat tested positive for COVID-19 in December. He vowed to be sensitive to the needs of people house at the jail and to listen more.
“The conversation around ACDC centers around how we treat people more humanely, how we take into consideration the CDC’s desire to have more space and facilities for those that are in custody, and providing programs from an education standpoint so they have better access to medications,” he said.
“No matter what their sexual orientation is, we need to focus on how we treat everyone,” he added.
This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.