Dozens of activists rallied at Atlanta City Hall today, Aug. 15, to speak out against the proposed legislation to lease 700 beds of the city’s mostly empty detention center to alleviate overcrowding at Fulton County Jail.
The City Council is slated to vote on the lease agreement during today’s council meeting. The expected vote comes after another violent and deadly weekend in the city. The Fulton County Commission is expected to consider approving the agreement at its Aug. 18 meeting.
The rally was organized by a number of organizations, including Community over Cages Alliance, led by Women on the Rise. Activists said they want the Atlanta City Detention Center, a 17-story high-rise jail, that opened in 1995, to be transformed into a health and wellness center. The site would be a place where communities could access social services, such as emergency housing, mental health, alcohol, and drug treatments programs. Offering such services to non-violent offenders would help keep vulnerable populations out of jail and alleviate overcrowding, they say.
Those at the rally held up signs that said, “Doctors Against Jail Expansion,” “Close the Extra Jail Replace with Center for Equity and Wellness,” “Care not cuffs” and “Healthcare and housing are public safety.”
The city’s Policing Alternatives & Diversion Intiatives (PAD) issued a statement against the lease agreement, saying the group so far this year 176 people who could have been booked and detained at the Fulton County jail were instead diverted to PAD.
“This means that in the last six months there were 176 people who did not end up in the Fulton County jail because of activities related to homelessness, to poverty, to substance use, and to disturbances due to mental health crises. Diversion is an immediate solution to jail overcrowding,” PAD said.
The Southern Center for Human Rights has spoken out about its decades of lawsuits against the Fulton County Jail. Opening up beds at the ACDC to house Fulton inmates will not solve the “humanitarian crisis” in Fulton’s jails, the organization said.
Much of the planning toward “reimagining” what to do with the city jail was reported via task force recommendations during former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration. Mayor Andre Dickens, when he served on the council in 2019, sponsored the resolution to “reimagine the Atlanta Detention Center as a Center for Equity.”
The lease agreement for 700 beds was approved by the City Council’s public safety committee last week. Mayor Andre Dickens addressed the committee after a violent weekend in Atlanta to voice support for leasing beds to Fulton County.
The mayor told the committee he is not in the “jailing business” but most of the inmates at the Fulton County Jail were arrested in the city of Atlanta. He said leasing city beds to the county was the “humanitarian” and responsible action for the city to take.
Fulton County’s Rice Street jail can hold roughly 3,100 people, but is so overcrowded that hundreds of men are forced to sleep on the floor, according to Sheriff Pat Labat.
The Atlanta City Detention Center has 1,300 beds but at most has roughly 100 to 200 inmates at any time.
The lease agreement would require Fulton County to pay the city $50 a day for each inmate housed at the city detention center during the four years. The city would also be entitled to 65% of the phone and commissary fees incurred by the Fulton County inmates while staying at ACDC.
Should Fulton County house inmates longer than four years, the rates would jump to $150 a day per inmate.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.