Fulton chair demands ‘the damn keys’ to Atlanta detention center

Robb Pitts wants to transfer county inmates into the city center amid the Fulton jail study

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts has fired back at the Atlanta City Council’s refusal to move sooner on the use of the city detention center to house inmates from Fulton’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, which is what Labat has wanted ever since he was sworn in last year. However, the lease cannot take effect until after the Justice Policy Board analyzes Fulton’s jail population, according to legislation approved by the council.

Pitts criticized that requirement in a statement Thursday evening. He said the county jail is in a state of emergency, and he added that people will die at the jail if they don’t act sooner with the lease.

“We’re fiddling, while Rome burns,” the Pitts’ statement said. “Give us the damn keys to the jail.”

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

The jail study will look at why inmates are booked, the time inmates spend at the jail, how their cases are resolved and more. The review could take 90 days or longer for completion.

Pitts said the inmate transfers can happen immediately and simultaneously during the data review. He also said the county can already provide Atlanta’s leaders with “ongoing, comprehensive data,” so he’s urging the policy board to focus solely on the establishment of a pre-arrest diversion center at the city detention center. The pre-arrest center would allow those arrested to avoid jail time by providing resources on housing, employment and substance abuse treatment.

Pitts nearly three weeks ago voted against the Fulton commission’s approval for the county’s side of the lease. But on Oct. 3, both Pitts and Labat attended the city council’s meeting to unsuccessfully urge the city to move forward on the lease. Labat at the time said 473 people are sleeping on the county jail floors due to overcrowding.

During the council meeting, City Councilman Michael Julian Bond introduced an ordinance to remove the agreement’s study clause. His legislation was referred to the council’s public safety committee, which meets at 1 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, Pitts said he has asked Fulton County’s attorney to explore what legal options the county has if the city does not move sooner on the lease agreement.

AJC staff writer Ben Brasch contributed to this story.