Former Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood has spoken out against a plan put forth by the Mayor’s office to close and repurpose the Atlanta City Jail, saying it is still needed to house city offenders.
In a two-page letter to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Norwood called for the jail to be sold to Fulton County to make sure the city and county have the necessary room to hold offenders. She was critical of decisions to release what she called “serious” and repeat offenders on signature bonds to relieve jail crowding.
Norwood pointed out that if the city plans to send its offenders to the county jail, that facility is already operating at close to its full capacity.
“There is no higher responsibility for government — at all levels — than public safety,” Norwood said in response to emailed questions from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “As such, we want to make sure that all arrestees are being processed without concern for overcrowding.” Norwood posted the letter on the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods’ Facebook page earlier this week. She is also chair of the council.
The letter was sent a week after Bottoms announced she wants to close the jail and find new uses for it. Soon Bottoms will select up to 25 people to sit on a task force to gather community input and present ideas for new ways to use the jail. Their findings are due to Bottoms within a year. Today is the final day to nominate someone to the task force.
Fulton County Jail spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said the county’s jail has 3,048 beds and as of Friday 2,960 inmates were housed there. By comparison, the Atlanta jail has 1,300 hundred beds, but it holds an average of 70 inmates per night. In 2018, the city jail cost $33 million to operate.
“If giving the jail away would stop crime, the Mayor would sign it over today,” Bottoms’ spokesman Michael Smith in a statement to the AJC, “But the reality is that the revolving door in Atlanta, and America as a whole, is not about a facility. It is about an antiquated belief that locking (offenders) up and throwing away the key will deter crime.”
Smith called Norwood’s stance “self-aggrandization at the expense of other people’s lives.”
“There is one mayor at a time,” Smith said. “The people of Atlanta elected and entrusted the one they chose in 2017 to make meaningful decisions that will change the trajectory of our communities.”
Norwood wants the task force to consider all aspects of the city’s criminal justice system, including jail policies and operations, costs for renovations of the jail and the housing of current offenders at the Atlanta jail.
This is the latest criticism Norwood has aimed at Bottoms’ efforts at criminal justice changes. In January, Norwood posted a letter criticizing the mayor and the city’s efforts on crime in Buckhead. At the time, residents complained not enough was being done to address the rash of car-thefts and break-ins in their neighborhood.
“My request (is) that all persons arrested in the city of Atlanta and Fulton County are processed in a manner that keeps our city and its residents and visitors safe,” Norwood said.
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