Five things to know about the Atlanta City Jail

June 7, 2019 Fulton County- Atlanta City Detention Center on Friday, June 7, 2019 on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. The detention center was built in 1995 and last renovated in 1999. Christina Matacotta/christina.matacotta@ajc.com
June 7, 2019 Fulton County- Atlanta City Detention Center on Friday, June 7, 2019 on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. The detention center was built in 1995 and last renovated in 1999. Christina Matacotta/christina.matacotta@ajc.com

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

Credit: Christina R. Matacotta

In the past few months, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the City Council have taken steps to find a new use for the Atlanta City Detention Center. The facility holds inmates who commit low-level offenses, such as shoplifting and speeding. Some early suggestions are to use the jail for a wellness center, job assistance site or a mixed-use development. A task force recently began working on finding the best future use for the jail.

Here are five things to know about the Atlanta City Jail:

1. It has existed since the 1950s 

The city has operated a detention center since the 1950s. The first location was the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, a 700-bed facility on Key Road. In 1995, the city opened the existing 254 Peachtree St. location — a $56 million facility with 1,300 beds.

During the 1980s, the city opened a 136-bed annex on Decatur Street. It later moved to a 300-bed facility on Peachtree Street, which was expanded to house 516 inmates. The annex was later leased to a non-profit.

2. Fulton County attempted to purchase the city jail

Discussions to sell the Atlanta City Jail to Fulton County have been on and off since former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration. In 2005, a federal judge urged Franklin to lease or sell the jail to Fulton County to ease overcrowding in that facility. The Fulton County Jail had been the subject of federal lawsuit claiming it was unsafe and too crowded.

Talks to sell the jail continued into Kasim Reed’s administration, when a U.S. District Court judge ordered Fulton County to purchase the Atlanta City Jail to address overcrowding. The deal fell through when an appraisal of the center resulted in the asking price jumping from $40 million to $85 million. At the time, Reed said the higher price reflected a fair market value.

Bottoms’ recent decision to repurpose the jail drew criticism from former mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, who has said the jail should be sold to Fulton County to assist with its continuing problem of overcrowding.


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3The jail once housed ICE detainees and Fulton County inmates 

Over the years, the jail has housed a variety of inmates, including Fulton County Jail inmates and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees. The Fulton County Jail, located on Rice Street, is designed to hold 2,591 inmates, but has held more than 2,700 in the past.

The city was under contract to hold ICE detainees since at least 2002, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. Atlanta was paid $78 a day for each ICE detainee held through a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. Before the ICE contract ended in 2018, the city had already collected $7.5 million for that fiscal year through the arrangement.

In June 2018, Bottoms signed an executive order ending the city jail's relationship with ICE. Bottoms said the order was in response to President Donald Trump's immigration policies that can separate children from their families.

4. The jail is a key part of the Mayor’s criminal justice reform

In recent years, Bottoms has made strides to reform the jail including eliminating the cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders who otherwise would sit in jail because they can’t afford bail.

However, an AJC article found the ordinance had unintended consequences, including an increase in the number of people failing to appear for their court date.

Three months after eliminating the cash bond requirements, Bottoms signed an executive order prohibiting the city's jail from accepting new ICE detainees. She later created a task force to repurpose the jail.

5. The jail task force has 9 months to find new uses for the building

In May, the city approved the creation of a task force to repurpose the jail – a potential step toward closing the jail, which currently houses an average of 70 inmates per night. The 25-person task force, which includes rapper T.I. and former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, must deliver its recommendations to Mayor Bottoms in nine months. The task force’s first meeting was July 16 and it’s expected to meet three more times before delivering recommendations.

Stories from the AJC archives was used in this reporting. 


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The announcement, which was made last week, also established a task force to evauluate potential issues for the site.

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