Exclusive: Atlanta Mayor Bottoms pitches partnership with Fulton to address jail overcrowding

City could hold 150 county inmates as part of reentry program, memo states

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration has proposed that the city partner with Fulton County to temporarily use the city’s jail to hold some county inmates and offer diversion and community referral services, according to an memo obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The memo, which was sent to members of the City Council on Thursday, is a draft outline of a letter of intent Bottom hopes to sign with Fulton following conversations with county leaders. The potential partnership is likely to be discussed during the council’s public safety committee meeting on Monday and has not been finalized.

Some councilors, including Michael Julian Bond, have criticized Bottoms’ plans to close the mostly empty Atlanta City Detention Center and urged the city to do more to address overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street, including selling or leasing Atlanta’s 1,300-bed jail to Fulton.

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According to the memo, the city would agree to use its detention center to house up to 150 Fulton County inmates through a reentry program. Those inmates must be within six months from the completion of their county jail sentence and would be given access to jobs and other services, the memo states. Fulton County would partially fund the program.

Overcrowding at Fulton’s jail has been a concern for years. The facility was under federal oversight for 11 years because of extreme overcrowding and security issues. Though Fulton has spent $1 billion to repair the facility, Channel 2 Action News reported in February that it was over capacity by 400 inmates.

The memo states the partnership with Fulton would be temporary, and the long-term use of the facility would be based on the city’s final decision on the detention center’s future.

A pending City Council resolution would set up the closure of the detention center within 15 months. Last year, a task force recommended the it be demolished and replaced with a center focused on equity and community services.

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Atlanta is also seeking to use its detention center to set up a 24/7 drop-off and community referral site for the city’s Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative, the memo states. The PAD program helps people facing poverty, substance abuse and mental health issues get access to services rather than be arrested for a non-violent offense.

Bottoms hopes to establish a working group made up of city, county and state officials to create a “resources services center” to offer job training, job placement, behavioral health, housing and healthcare services, per the memo.

The mayor and Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts “have been engaged in direct conversations about the Atlanta City Detention Center over the last several months,” Matthew Blakely, a spokesman for Pitts, said in a statement. “Those conversations were private and we are not disclosing any specifics from them at this time. Staff from the county and the city have also been discussing the matter, though nothing has been finalized at any level.”