Councilors open to working with Fulton on jail; talks still ‘active and ongoing’

Several Atlanta City Council members said they are open to working with Fulton County to help alleviate overcrowding at the county jail, though top city officials said those talks are still ongoing and don’t have a firm timeline yet.

The city’s Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen appeared before the council’s public safety committee Monday and provided updates on Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ discussions with Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts on how the Atlanta City Detention Center could be used to assist Fulton.

Bottoms is still moving forward with her efforts to close the city’s 1,300-bed jail, which holds just a few dozen inmates on any given night. Supporters of the jail’s closure argue it is expensive for the city to continue running a mostly empty building and that the city would be better served by replacing the jail with a community center focused on equity.

“The mayor has been clear that her vision does not include simply putting people in jail cells,” Keen said.

While Atlanta’s detention center is mostly empty, Fulton’s 2,590-bed Rice Street jail is overcrowded. People charged with serious, violent crimes are taken to the county jail, while Atlanta’s is for low-level offenders who are often not held for long periods of time after being arrested.

In a memo to Council members last week, the Bottoms administration outlined a letter of intent it hopes to sign with Fulton County.

ExploreAfter hours of public comment, Atlanta City Council postpones jail vote

Under the agreement, the city would use its detention center to house up to 150 Fulton County inmates through a reentry program. Those inmates must be within six months of finishing their county jail sentence and would be given access to jobs and other services, the memo states. Fulton County would partially fund the program, according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In an April 6 letter to Bottoms, Pitts said he was willing to partner with the city and requested the use of 500 beds at the Atlanta detention center “where we can house individuals currently held at our Rice Street location,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by the AJC.

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea, personally,” Councilwoman Cleta Winslow said of the possible agreement with Fulton, adding she wished some of the ideas had been implemented earlier.

ExploreAtlanta Mayor Bottoms pitches partnership with Fulton to address jail overcrowding

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. The Council has not yet taken a vote on a pending resolution that would close the jail within 15 months.

In addition to eventually closing the city jail, Bottoms has said she wants 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.

Some councilors, including Michael Julian Bond, have criticized Bottoms’ plans to close the city jail and urged the city to do more to address overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail, including selling or leasing Atlanta’s jail to Fulton. Bond is the sponsor of a resolution that would create a joint city-county task force aimed at addressing overcrowding at the Fulton jail. Last week the Council voted to table that measure until at least next Monday.

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 STORY SO FAR:

Last June, a city-created task force recommended the Atlanta City Detention Center be demolished and replaced with a community center focused on equity. Earlier this year, Bottoms’ administration announced how it hoped to go about shutting down the jail, though those plans were met with hesitation from councilmembers. A dueling proposal was introduced to create a joint city-county task force that would explore using the Atlanta jail to ease overcrowding at the Fulton County jail, but that measure was recently tabled.