The latest City Council proposal to turn Atlanta’s mostly empty detention center building into a health and wellness center is on hold as conversations continue with Mayor Andre Dickens and his team.
The council’s public safety committee meeting voted Monday not to advance a resolution that would close the Atlanta City Detention Center and repurpose the 11-story building into a center that provides mental health support, drug and alcohol treatment and transitional housing. The center would be named after the late Congressman John Lewis.
The measure, sponsored by three councilmembers new to City Hall this year, could come back before the committee for a vote in the future.
The lead sponsor, Councilwoman Keisha Sean Waites, said Monday that conversations are ongoing with Dickens’ office surrounding funding and the current plans to open a diversion center on the first floor of the detention center in partnership with Fulton County.
Under the proposal, the city would conduct a feasibility study and the transformation would happen within 180 days. The Atlanta Police Department would be urged to refer eligible cases to the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative. Police would also be urged to use Grady Hospital beds for arrests involving mental health, drugs, and alcohol intoxication.
The City Council last week approved a $16 million budget for the Atlanta Department of Corrections, which manages the detention center, but some officials and activists questioned that level of funding. Only two or three floors of the building downtown are used to hold fewer than 50 detainees a night. Many are held on minor, nonviolent offenses.
The measure is technically non-binding if it passes the council, so it would be up to Dickens to implement it. Last year, then City Councilman-Dickens said he wanted to keep the jail open if elected, at least in the short-term.
Before the proposal reaches the mayor, it could face an uphill battle getting through the council. Council members last year rejected a plan proposed by former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to close the detention center because they wanted to help address overcrowding at Fulton County’s jail.
In 2020, a task force report recommended replacing the detention center with a center focused on equity. Organizers from groups like Women on the Rise and the Racial Justice Action Center have urged the city to close the jail for years. Dozens of residents spoke during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting and said the council should advance Waites’ resolution.
“The amount of money spent on responding to crime could be spent on preventing crime,” said Devin Franklin, a movement policy counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights. “That’s what ACDC could do.”