Aug 10, 2022 - News

Critics say "no" to proposed Atlanta jail lease agreement

Illustration of the "No" symbol merged with jail cell bars.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Local activists are criticizing a proposal to lease beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center to Fulton County.

Driving the news: City Council's Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee on Monday voted to advance an intergovernmental agreement between the city, Fulton County and Sheriff Patrick Labat to house up to 700 county detainees at the facility for no more than 4 years.

  • All committee members voted in favor of the legislation except for Council member Keisha Sean Waites. Marci Overstreet was absent. It now goes to the City Council and the Board of Commissioners for approval.

Details: The proposal, sponsored by Councilman Michael Julian Bond, calls for the county to pay the city $50 per detainee per day. Atlanta would also be entitled to 65% of commissary and phone fees.

  • The 1,300-bed center currently only uses a few floors to house fewer than 50 people each night, most of whom are there for nonviolent, minor charges, the AJC previously reported.

What they're saying: Activists say the proposal is contrary to Atlanta's plans to transition the jail into a 24/7 Center for Diversion and Services where nonviolent people can access mental health counseling, treatment or other resources instead of going to jail.

  • Tiffany Roberts, director of Southern Center of Human Rights' public policy unit, told the committee that the city's actions show it's "committed to enabling Fulton County's pathological abuses of human rights and overcrowding."

Devin Barrington-Ward, a member of Community Over Cages ATL, as well as the task force created to determine the future of the City Detention Center, said overcrowding issues at the Fulton County jail aren't new.

  • "When are we going to actually systemically address this issue and stop kicking the can down the road?" he asked.

The Southern Center of Human Rights and the Georgia Advocacy Office earlier this year agreed to settle a lawsuit they filed against former Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson and four other defendants on behalf of women who were held in squalid conditions at the county's South Annex Jail in Union City.

  • The lawsuit said detainees at the facility were being held in solitary confinement in cells littered with urine, feces and toilet water.

The other side: Labat told the AJC that the proposal would give the county time to open a new jail.

Mayor Dickens, who supports the agreement, told the committee that there is a "humanitarian need" to address conditions that force people to sleep on the floor in hallways at the Fulton County Jail.

Bond, the proposal's sponsor, said Atlanta has a "moral obligation" to do something to alleviate Fulton's overcrowding.

  • "None of us wants to see what's going on at Fulton County, but to stand by and do nothing is also equally unacceptable to me," he said.

What we're watching: The deal requires approval from both the Atlanta City Council and the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Both could take up the proposal as early as next week.

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