Councilors press pause on dueling proposals for future of Atlanta jail

The Atlanta City Detention Center near the intersection of Peachtree Street and Memorial Drive. AJC File

Credit: Stephen Deere

Combined ShapeCaption
The Atlanta City Detention Center near the intersection of Peachtree Street and Memorial Drive. AJC File

Credit: Stephen Deere

Credit: Stephen Deere

It will be at least a few more weeks before Atlanta City Council members vote on the future of the city’s jail.

Two dueling proposals with diverging visions for the mostly empty detention center came before a City Council committee Monday afternoon. Following over an hour of discussion and several votes that were tied 3-3, both were ultimately held in the committee and will not go before the full Council for a vote next week.

One of the resolutions would close the 1,300-bed facility within 15 months. That piece of legislation, sponsored by councilmembers Amir Farokhi and Carla Smith on behalf of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration, is consistent with the mayor’s attempts to repurpose the city-owned property as a “center for equity.”

The other proposal would have city and Fulton County officials discuss whether to sell the jail to the county to help ease overcrowding inside the county jail. Sponsored by Councilmen Michael Julian Bond, Howard Shook, J. P. Matzigkeit and Dustin Hillis, that resolution would create a joint Atlanta-Fulton County task force to develop a plan for the detention center. It leaves open the possibility that the 471,000-square-foot building would continue housing inmates and is an option the Fulton County sheriff has advocated.

Charletta Wilson Jacks, a member of Bottoms’ administration, urged the committee to hold both measures. She said the mayor plans to meet with Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts soon to discuss partnership opportunities, and that Bond’s resolution would add “more bureaucracy to the whole conversation.”

Bond said the Council is morally obligated to address the issues at the Fulton County jail, where officials have reported inhumane conditions for inmates.

“We’ve got to do something about this suffering today,” he said.

The mayor’s meeting with Pitts is intended to address concerns about the county jail raised in Bond’s measure, Jacks said. The mayor’s proposal could be reconsidered in late April, officials said. It’s unclear when Bond’s measure could be back on the table.

At times, policy discussions about the jail were derailed as the committee debated procedure or took aim at one another. The committee went back and forth multiple times and took votes on the measures before ultimately agreeing to hold both items. During some votes, the six-member committee was deadlocked in a 3-3 tie.

“We’re just going in a circle here. I think that’s called spiraling,” Councilwoman Carla Smith said.

Later in the meeting, Farokhi said be believed some of Bond’s arguments were exaggerated. Bond responded by saying he has “never been so insulted while I served on this Council.”

The Council has held work sessions with members of Bottoms’ administration and other local officials since late January to discuss the future of the jail.

The administration said closing the jail follows the guidance of a task force assembled by Bottoms to reimagine the city’s jail. Last year, the task force recommended demolishing the facility and replacing it with a center for equity.

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