Amendment to Atlanta detention center deal moves ahead to full council

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

An Atlanta City Council Committee has advanced an ordinance to increase the pace of plans to use the city detention center to house inmates from Fulton County’s overcrowded jail.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat recently agreed to lease 700 beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center to Fulton. The lease, however, cannot take effect until after the Justice Policy Board analyzes the county jail population, which could take 90 days or longer, according to an amendment authored by City Councilman Jason Dozier.

City Councilman Michael Julian Bond authored an amendment last week to remove the clause requiring the study’s completion before the lease could begin. And on Monday, members of the council’s Public Safety Committee voted 5-1 to move Bond’s ordinance to the full council for a vote on Oct. 17.

The future use of the mostly-empty detention center has caused heated debates in the community in recent years. In 2020, several activists convened with business leaders and local government officials to propose the creation of an equity center at the detention center. The center would provide services to address homelessness and other issues impacting the community’s wellbeing.

But several leaders, including Bond, have advocated for the city to use its detention center to house inmates from Fulton County’s overcrowded jail, which has been described by some officials as a “humanitarian crisis.”

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

City Councilmembers Bond and Mary Norwood said they understand the importance of the data, but they also said the overcrowding issue at the county jail is putting lives at risk.

Labat says he supports the study, but he thinks the city is stalling by waiting until the review is done before the lease can begin.

“We have 485 people sleeping on the floor,” he said. “Why don’t we do both at the same time, potentially saving people’s lives.”

Councilmembers Dozier, Keisha Sean Waites, and Liliana Bakhtiari said they understand the county’s situation. But they also want to have the full picture about why inmates are booked, the time inmates spend at the jail, how their cases are resolved, and more. Dozier says the county has been given several opportunities to provide this data, but to no avail.

“If we utilize this data, we can actually serve and help more families,” said Waites, who voted against Bond’s ordinance. “More than likely 25% of the people that are probably housed at that facility would not be there if we gave them the appropriate services that they need.”

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