Months after the Atlanta City Council began discussions about closing Atlanta’s city jail, advocates of the plan held a rally ahead of Monday’s council meeting asking the city to create a task force to repurpose it into a wellness and freedom center.
Photo: BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Atlanta’s jail could soon be closed, may become a ‘wellness’ center

Months after the Atlanta City Council began discussions about closing Atlanta’s city jail, advocates of the plan held a rally ahead of Monday’s council meeting asking the city to create a task force to repurpose it into a wellness and freedom center.

“Atlanta calls itself a welcoming city,” said Marilynn Winn organizer of the rally. “We want to be on the road of divesting in jails and investing in community safety and health.”

If the idea passes the council, a wellness and freedom center would provide residents with a one-stop shop for employment, healthcare and child care assistance.

Winn said her organization, Women On the Rise, organized the rally to create more public awareness of the discussion about ways to reuse the Atlanta City Detention Center. Winn said Bottoms had suggested a potential task force to decide the future of the jail would be comprised of 30 to 40 people selected by from the community and the mayor’s office.

“We want it that way because we want everything to stay transparent,” Winn said.

“Since Mayor Bottoms announced her intention to close the Atlanta City Detention Center last summer, her administration has been actively working with the community and stakeholders—including many of the social justice advocates who came to city hall today—to design a process to engage the community on how we repurpose the jail,” a spokesperson in the Mayor’s Office said in an emailed statement. “The administration expects to introduce legislation in the near future.”

Legislation proposing a task force could come as early as May 20, the next Atlanta City Council meeting.


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In the past six months, Winn’s organization has met with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms about the jail.

“The conversations have been very productive,” Winn said, adding she’s garnered support from a few council members.

A resolution calling for closing the jail was first introduced by several council members in August, but it was never taken up for a vote.

In the months since, Bottoms has suggested a new life for the jail, with the city retaining ownership of the property.

Recently, changes have been made that have reduced the number of prisoners held there. In February 2018, Bottoms signed an ordinance eliminating the cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders who otherwise would sit in jail because they can’t afford bail.

Last June, she signed an executive order prohibiting the city’s jail from accepting new detainees of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The order was in response to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies that have left many children separated from their families. At a town hall earlier this year, Bottoms said the jail now houses an average of 70 inmates.


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The city has operated a detention center since the 1950s. In 1995, the city opened the existing 254 Peachtree St. location — a $56 million facility with 1,300 beds. The jail’s population has steadily declined but maintained 360 employees and an operating budget of $33 million in the fiscal year 2018.

Bottoms hopes to reinvest the jail’s operating funds.


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