Nov 4, 2021 - News

Fulton DA: City jail should remain a jail — at least for now

Fulton County District Attorney sits at a green table while addressing state lawmakers about COVID's effect on case backlogs

Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, addresses state lawmakers during a Georgia Senate committee. Screenshot courtesy of the Georgia General Assembly

Helping people accused of low-level and nonviolent offenses stay out of the judicial system and find help like housing, counseling, and substance abuse support is important, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis tells Axios.

  • However, she says, vacant cells at the nearly empty Downtown city jail that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Fulton County officials plan to use for such a prearrest diversion program should first be used to ease overcrowding at the county’s 2,500-bed jail.
  • Why it matters: Willis joins Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat in wanting the Downtown holding facility to house  inmates, pushing back against one of Bottoms' key initiatives.

Context: Willis told state lawmakers at a Senate committee hearing that the current "crime crisis" is exacerbated by lack of funding, too few judges to hear cases, poor technology, not enough crime lab scientists and insufficient laws.

  • Fulton judges each handle nearly 40 homicide cases a year, almost double the national standard, and prosecutors are staring down more than 180 unindicted homicide cases.

Bottoms announced Wednesday that the city and county had agreed to partner to open a pre-arrest diversion facility called The Center in underutilized space at the jail until a permanent location could be found.

  • Scheduled to open in 2022, The Center could divert more than 40 people a day from the county jail and Grady Memorial Hospital, city officials said in a statement.

Yes, but: Labat, who since taking office earlier this year has called for the county to buy the jail to ease overcrowding at the northwest Atlanta lockup, declined to comment on The Center, a spokesperson tells Axios.

One more thing: Willis says the criminal investigation her office launched into former President Donald Trump won’t be finished by year’s end and her team has no timeline.

  • Shortly after Trump lost the 2020 election, the president told Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, that he wanted to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.”

Big picture: Rising crime and elections have some lawmakers supporting tough-on-crime policies, potentially slowing momentum for cost-effective alternatives to jail, like prearrest diversion.


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