The ACLU reported Fulton could eliminate these long-term issues if the county indicted people charged with felonies in a timely manner, and by not jailing people who can’t afford bond. The report also advises Fulton to incentivize law enforcement officers to divert eligible people to diversion programs, and to grant bail to those charged with misdemeanors by imposing conditions to ensure the person attends court and to protect the safety of any other person.
“If Fulton County had followed those four steps, 728 (detainees) could potentially have been released from custody, thereby solving the overcrowding problem,” said Eunice Cho, an ACLU senior staff attorney who co-authored the report.
Public leaders in recent years have pushed for the city to use its mostly-empty detention center to shelter inmates from the county jail, where over 400 people are sleeping on the floor. But advocates for criminal justice reform, including several council members, want to repurpose the city building into a center to address homelessness, poverty and mental illness.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat recently agreed to lease 700 beds at the detention Center to Fulton. However, the lease cannot take effect until after the Justice Policy Board analyzes the county jail population within 90 days.
City Councilman Michael Julian Bond authored an amendment to remove the clause requiring the study’s completion before the lease could begin. The council will vote on the ordinance Monday.
Cho said the ACLU study shouldn’t replace the Jail Population Review Committee’s work because the ACLU study is limited to people jailed on Sept. 14.
And in addition to urging Atlanta to repeal its Fulton lease agreement, Cho said the ACLU wants the city to require Atlanta police to use pre-trial diversion programs and immediate release practices for city ordinance violations.
The Legal Action Center, meanwhile, has a fiscal impact study that shows Atlanta could get up to $100 million — and $527,000 in annual property taxes — by selling the land and building to a private owner.
“The city stands to gain revenue of a little over $10 million in the first year (of Fulton’s lease), and a little over $13 million in the following years from Fulton,” said Roberta Meyers Douglas, the Legal Action Center’s vice president of state strategy & reentry. “But in each year, the city still stands to lose millions of dollars off this deal in operational costs that could be better used to provide support services in the community.”
The ACLU and Legal Action Center studies are available on each organization’s website.