Fulton Sheriff: I’ll lead the negotiations with Atlanta over jail

The Atlanta City Detention Center and the Fulton County Jail. (file photo)

Credit: AJC File

Credit: AJC File

The Atlanta City Detention Center and the Fulton County Jail. (file photo)

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat is the newest elected official to try and get Atlanta’s precious, unused jail space.

Labat wrote a letter last week to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta council members and Fulton County Commissioners saying the Fulton County Commission was in favor of him leading negotiations to lease space at the city detention center. Chairman Robb Pitts had been negotiating with Bottoms.

In the letter, Labat asked Bottoms for 500 beds and said he would be willing to partner with the city’s programs that give vocational and educational training to inmates housed at the detention center.

A representative for Bottoms said they’d been awaiting a response from the county about their offer for Fulton to lease 150 of the 1,300 beds at its jail. Bottoms wrote in late April that she also wants the inmates housed as part of a re-entry program.

But Labat said a couple weeks ago that only 10 of his 3,000 inmates would be eligible if the re-entry program was a requirement for leasing the beds.

“Bed space is available throughout the County, in facilities that they own, that by the Sheriff’s own admission, cannot be used to house inmates because of inadequate staffing,” a Bottoms spokesperson said. “The Mayor set forth a good-faith offer to house 150 non-violent inmates to participate in a reentry program, of which the County has refused to accept.

“This all or nothing approach by the County continues to block Atlanta from assisting Fulton County with this decades old overcrowding issue, that they cannot seem to resolve on their own.”

The beds in Atlanta aren’t empty on accident. Bottoms has made it a point to close the detention center, as activists call for less incarceration in what they view as an unjust system.

A year ago, a task force recommended the city facility be razed and replaced with a center focused on equity and community services.

But the sheriff says he needs new jail space so he can “treat people like they’re humans.”

Fulton’s Rice Street jail has been overcrowded for years, which is part of the reason it was under federal oversight for 11 years. Even after spending $1 billion, hundreds of people sleep nightly on makeshift beds.

Councilman Julian Michael Bond said the next step is to appoint people to a joint committee aimed at considering a lease/sale of the city’s detention center to the county, an effort he spear-headed.

There will be 12 members: One from the mayor, one from the council president, one from the public safety committee chair, three judges, two Atlanta City Council members, three Fulton County Commission members and a designee from the Fulton County Sheriff.

AJC staff writers Wilborn P. Nobles III and J.D. Capelouto contributed to this story.

Channel 2's Mark Winne learned that while the power was out, there was no air conditioning, no security cameras, a court session canceled, a delay in people getting out on bond and other issues at the jail.