Atlanta business leaders: Keep city jail open to relieve Fulton overcrowding

The city of Atlanta and some activists want to transform the near-empty city jail into an "Equity Center." Photo by Bill Torpy
The city of Atlanta and some activists want to transform the near-empty city jail into an "Equity Center." Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Community organizers pushing for closure of city detention center

Some of Atlanta’s leading business and community nonprofit leaders are urging the Atlanta City Council to act quickly in addressing overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail — a move opposed by activists who are urging the city to close its detention center.

A.J. Robinson of Central Atlanta Progress, Kevin Green of the Midtown Alliance, and Jim Durrett of the Buckhead Coalition wrote a joint letter to the council Thursday afternoon in support of a pending resolution to create a task force that would develop a plan for the Fulton detention center, according to a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That plan could include selling or leasing the mostly empty Atlanta City Detention Center to the county, the resolution states.

The City Council is set to take a vote on the measure Monday.

In the letter, the CEOs said a joint Atlanta-Fulton County task force is in the “best interest of the City and County and provides an opportunity to holistically address public safety concerns now gripping our communities.”

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“Currently, more than 40% of the detainees in the Fulton County jail were arrested by APD. The fact that the Fulton County jail is over-full not only means that more offenders are on the streets in our City, but that needed mental health, addiction and related services are not available to those that are there,” according to the letter.

The idea to partner with Fulton, sponsored by Councilman Michael Julian Bond, is facing pushback from criminal justice reform activists who are advocating for the closure of the city’s detention center. A coalition of community activism groups held a rally in Buckhead on Friday morning and addressed the proposals in Bond’s resolution.

“We know that they are not actually solutions to making our community safe,” Bridgette Simpson, a community organizer with Women on the Rise, said at the rally. “We demand that the [city] jail be closed … to build and truly create public safety in our community.”

Simpson said the leaders of the downtown, Midtown and Buckhead nonprofits do not speak for all of the residents in those communities.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also supports closing the city detention center and repurposing the property as a community center focused on equity. Another pending City Council resolution, which sets up the closure of the city jail within 15 months, is supported by Bottoms and is being held in the council’s public safety committee.

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The nonprofit CEOs’ letter comes days after the Working Families Party partnered with the Communities Over Cages: Close the Jail ATL Campaign to release a new video advertisement targeting Bond, former mayoral candidate and councilwoman Mary Norwood, and new Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat. Specifically, the ad slams the three politicians for their resistance to efforts to close the Atlanta City Detention Center downtown.

The downtown, Midtown and Buckhead business leaders stressed in their letter that “this is an issue with critical implications for our City.”

“A joint task force will provide the best strategy to cooperatively guide public safety reform, while keeping citizens informed and potentially avoiding the substantial cost to taxpayers of converting the City Detention Center for a different purpose while building yet another detention center,” the letter stated.

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