County Sheriff Patrick Labat’s spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Union City’s South Fulton Annex detainees will be transferred first — specifically the women and some men. Detainees from the chronically overcrowded Rice Street county jail will be moved at no more than 100 people per month until a limit of 700 detainees is reached, according to a spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.
The spokespeople declined to share the timing of transfers due to security and safety risks. Labat’s spokeswoman also said they can’t determine the length of stay for each detainee because multiple factors contribute to that, such as court hearings and bonds.
The lease agreement excludes juveniles and detainees with chronic unmanageable diseases or serious medical conditions that cannot be fully treated at the detention center.
Instead, the city facility will house material witnesses and adults charged with or convicted of low to medium level crimes, and first or second offenses. The city’s Corrections department chief can also make exceptions for transfers to the detention center, per the contract.
Fulton will have to properly provide county detainees food (three meals a day), security, medical service, transportation, and sanitation, among other requirements. Atlanta will give Fulton 30 days to correct violations. If Fulton fails to correct a violation, the county will have to move detainees out of the detention center within 180 days from the time Atlanta kills the deal due to a contract breach.
Atlanta will provide phone and commissary services to detainees with existing city vendor contracts that will be paid from fees generated by the phone and commissary use, per the agreement. After the vendors are paid, Atlanta will use 65% of the remaining fees for jail-related services. The sheriff will get the remaining 35%.
The agreement also states Atlanta will coordinate with Fulton over additional detention center space for security and staffing of medical support, dining, transportation, and laundry, among other things. Additional activities include programs for cosmetology, canines, computer skills, substance abuse treatment, music/dance therapy, religious support, anger management, law library use, a GED program, and re-entry. Atlanta will give the detainees a library, education support, and administrative services.
Per the contract, Labat will move county detainees to the detention center at his discretion. At the county jail, hundreds of Fulton detainees sleep on the floor in cots because the population exceeds its 2,592 beds. Labat, who assumed office in 2021, is trying to alleviate the matter with help from space in the mostly-empty, 17-story detention center facility.
Labat and those who supported the detention center’s use received intense pushback from advocates of criminal justice reform. Several Atlanta City Council members opposed the lease as well.
The Southern Center for Human Rights revealed in November that at one point in 2022, the county detainees with mental illnesses requiring treatment were suffering from malnourishment, lice and scabies. The center, and other critics, argued the county’s Rice Street jail is too understaffed for them to maintain another building.
In the meantime, Atlanta is still working with a firm to build a new 24/7 diversion center at the city detention center for $3 million. The “Center for Diversion Services,” which is to open in 2023, will support people struggling with homelessness or behavioral health issues, as well as those who would otherwise get booked into jail for minor, non-violent offenses.