Barrett, Jacquelyn 1950–

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Jacquelyn Barrett 1950

County sheriff

Decided to Fight far Change from the Inside

What Glass Ceiling?

Administrative Success

Faced Charges of Reverse Discrimination


Jacquelyn Barrett broke color and gender barriers on November 3, 1992 when she was elected sheriff of Fulton County, Georgia, thus becoming the first African American female sheriff in the United States. Her election signaled the end of the old-time stereotype of the Southern sheriff as a big-bellied, tobacco-spitting, white male. As a black female with a masters degree and over twenty years in law enforcement, Barrett represented the new face of law enforcement. As sheriff, Barrett inherited a constituency that included the city of Atlanta, a budget in excess of #65 million, and a staff of over 1000 sworn officers and civilians. Despite the high-profile nature of her job and the public scrutiny that goes with it, Barrett has always made family a priority. Im a mother and I dont hide that from anyone, she told Ebony. I talk about being a mother in the hope that my experience will help other mothers in this community who are trying to raise their kids.

Barretts commitment to community goes beyond her roles as sheriff and mother. I am a particular advocate of a sense of communitycaring about each other as members of the community, acting like neighbors, she told Ebony. To that end, the sheriffs department participates in numerous programs such as fundraisers for youth homes, gang resistance training in middle schools, and job training. Individually, Barrett goes, as she told Eye on Women, wherever anybody will let me talk to lecture on everything from domestic abuse to the realities of jail. Barrett explained that she feels this is simply another aspect of her duties as sheriff.

Born in 1950 to Ocie P. Harrison, and Cornelius Harrison, Sr., Barrett was the oldest of two children. Barrett and her brother Cornelius, Jr. were raised among scholars on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Barretts mother worked as secretary to the university president. In this setting, surrounded by the families of professors and educators, there was never any question that we would finish high school and go on to collegenever, she recalled in Ebony.

Decided to Fight far Change from the Inside

Before leaving for college, Barrett received a lesson in politics as a witness to the dramas of the Civil Rights Movement. Recalling how she did not like the way the government used the police to control protestors, she told Ebony that she realized she wanted to do something about it from the inside, rather than fight for change from the outside.

Barrett attended Beaver College in Glenside, Pennsylvania, majoring in criminal justice. During the summer, she returned to her hometown to work in the county sheriffs office. Back then, however, this future sheriff was allowed to perform only those jobs that were considered appropriate for a woman.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Barrett moved to Atlanta to pursue a masters degree in sociology. Upon graduation, she took a position in a

At a Glance

Born in 1950, raised in Charlotte, NC; daughter of Ocie P. Harrison (a retired secretary) and Cornelius Harrison, Sr. (deceased); divorced; children: Kimberly and Alan. Education: Beaver College, degree in criminal justice; Clark Atlanta University, masters degree in sociology.

Career: Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, 1976-85; Fulton County Sheriffs Office, Chief Administrative Officer, 1985-87; Fulton County Public Safety Training Center, director, 1987-1992; Fulton County, sheriff, 1992-.

Awards: Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Award; Jean Young Community Service Award; inducted into the Atlanta YWCAs Academy of Women, 1995; Turner Broadcasting System, Trumpet Award, 1998.

Memberships: Georgia Center for Children, board member; the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, board member; the Fulton County Emergency Medical Service/911 Advisory Board; St. Judes Recovery Board; Atlanta Business Leagues Atlantas Top 100 Black Women of Influence; 100 Black Women, Atlanta Chapter; Atlanta Humane Society; National Sheriffs Association, Accreditation and Education and Training Committees; National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), president, 1997-98.

Addresses: Office Fuîton County Courthouse, 185 Central Ave., SW 9th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303; (404) 730-5100. fma/7[email protected], org

local police station before moving on in 1976 to Georgias Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST). In nine years there she worked in a variety of positions in which she taught instructors and wrote curriculums.

During this period, she bore two children, Kimberly and Alan. One of the first ways motherhood influenced her career is when she decided to focus her career on working in Fulton County, where she lived with her family, rather than continuing with the statewide POST. This decision not only helped her spend more time with her children, but led her to her first position with the Fulton County Sheriffs Department.

What Glass Ceiling?

In 1985 Barrett was appointed Chief Administrative Officer for the department. However, she would not take over the sheriffs position just yet. Rather, in 1987, when the county opened its own training facility, she was selected to head it. Thus, she shattered her first glass ceiling as the first women to head an agency of this type in Georgia.

In 1992 the position of Sheriff of Fulton County opened up and Barrett decided to enter the race. With the support of the deputies union behind her, Barrett won the election and made history. Though she broke both racial and gender barriers when she was elected, she later told the Greensboro News and Record, Every time I hear [that I made history], I go Who me? I was just running for a job.

Since her tenure as sheriff began, Barretts department has overseen security for one World Series, one Super Bowl, one Democratic National Convention, and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The Atlanta Olympics marked the first time that two women, Barrett and Atlantas Chief of Police, Beverly Harvard, headed security for the Games, Of the Olympics, Barrett told the Greensboro News and Record, It was the most intense, the most complex, the most detailed event ever in my life. The Olympics, however, were marred by a tragic bombing. Barrett told the Greensboro News and Record that, although the bombing was regrettable, Im just delighted we were as prepared as we were for the aftermath.

Administrative Success

Barrett has not only been successful with high-profile events, but also behind the scenes at the department. Her administrative responsibilities have included: overseeing the countys nearly 2, 000-capacity jail, maintaining security at the courthouse, and administering the day-to-day functions of the department. In her first term, Barrett was instrumental in removing the county jail from federal oversight, saving the county millions of dollars in federal fees and penalties. She further proved her administrative skills by moving the sheriffs office into the computer age. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when she arrived, the budget still had requests for electric typewriters. Barrett succeeded in ensuring that there are desktops on every desk and laptops in patrol cars. In addition, Barrett launched an extensive website that, in addition to staff biographies and department information, features an online booking log for officers, allows families to check on inmates, and lets lawyers track subpoenas and other proceedings. Barrett has also successfully led the department on the quest for accreditation. In March 2000 the Fulton County Sheriffs Department passed the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agenciess stringent requirements to receive accreditation.

Barretts successes have not gone unnoticed. She has received numerous award including the Turner Broadcastings Trumpet Award for African American Achievement and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Award for justice. She has also served as the president of the prestigious National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE) and has been a regular guest on Cable News Network (CNN). However, the highest reflection of her skill as sheriff is the fact that she was elected to her third four-year term in 2000.

Faced Charges of Reverse Discrimination

With public office, however, comes controversy and Barrett has had her share. In 1996, 16 white sheriffs deputies filed reverse discrimination charges against Barrett and the Fulton County Sheriffs Department. They claimed they were excluded from advancement within the department solely for racial reasons. The courts agreed and ordered the department to pay over #800, 000 to the 16 deputies. The judgment was overturned by another court and the settlements were appealed. Despite the outcome, this case cast a dark shadow over Barretts otherwise stellar career.

Barrett has also come under fire with charges of mismanaged healthcare at the Fulton County Jail. In 1999, with legal support from the Southern Center for Human Rights, six HIV-positive inmates filed a lawsuit claiming they received inadequate medical attention in Fulton County Jail. After eight months, the inmates agreed to settle their suit with the county. However, the fallout from the case included an intensive probe into conditions at the jail. The results, released in 2000, were scathing. The chief investigator called the jail disgraceful and totally unacceptable and cited gross inadequacies in of medical care, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. Barretts initial response was to not renew the contract with the prisons medical provider. She also assured that necessary changes were underway including reorganization of medical records and renovations of jail buildings.

Despite the troubles she has experienced as sheriff, the fact remains that Barrett is an inspiration to black women and to all women in general. I often get women and young girls who come up to me and tell me how proud they are of what Ive done, Barrett told USA Today. If my story helps other women to talk about whats possible, then I feel Ive done my job.



Ebony, August 1995, p94.

Eye on Women, (Atlanta), 1995.

Fulton County Daily Report (Fulton County, Georgia), March 16, 2000.

Greensboro News and Record (Greensboro, NC), October 2, 1996, p1.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday December 10, 2000.

USA Today, December 16, 1999.


Additional information was obtained online at

Candace LaBalle

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Barrett, Jacquelyn 1950–

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