Report: Atlanta City Council hosts special committee work session with Fulton County on the Atlanta City Detention Center

Fulton County Board of Commissioners assembly hall. Source: Fulton County Board of Commissioners website.

ATLANTA — On Thurs., May 27, the Public Safety and Legal Administration (PSLA) met with Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat and the Fulton County Board of Commissioners for a special work session to have a discussion on the future of the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC). Further context on the complex issue regarding the city jail can be found in our article here.

City council members of present were Joyce Sheperd (District 12) serving as chair, city council president Felicia Moore, Antonio Brown (District 3), Howard Shook (District 7), Marci Collier Overstreet (District 11), Michael Julian Bond (Post 1 At-Large), Matt Westmoreland (Post 2 At-Large), and Andre Dickens (Post 3 At-Large). Fulton County commissioners present were Liz Hausemann (District 1), Bob Ellis (District 2), Natalie Hall (Vice Chair, District 4), Marvin Arrington, Jr. (District 5), and Khadijah Abdur-Rahman (District 6). Jestin Johnson, who serves as Deputy Chief Operating Officer for the City of Atlanta, represented the mayor’s office in Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ absence. 

Johnson said the Mayor’s Office has engaged with Fulton County staff leaders to identify areas of partnership based on their jail reduction strategies. The partners are to include Fulton County courts, Grady Health System, Georgia Mental Health Network, Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative (PAD), Partners for Home, Emory Health, and others. A letter of intent to be used as a “starting point for additional discussions\’\’ has been drafted by Bottoms, who has reportedly met twice with Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts to discuss the letter. Johnson said his office had not received any formal response from anyone on the partnership. County commissioners and Labat all said they had not received the letter, indicating it was not well-circulated. Labat added that he has not been contacted by the mayor’s office.

Labat reiterated his previous statements claiming he needs 500 beds, arguing, “I have an oath to treat people humanely.” The timeline for this need was defined as six months to one year. Sheperd asked Labat for clarification on who the 500 beds would be for, saying city council’s offer had been to move people currently in the Fulton County Jail who were in re-entry or diversion programs or have misdemeanors and place them in ACDC. Labat replied that the Fulton County Jail population is “made up of the worst of the worst,” and that he anticipates the population to increase “two- to three-fold [due to increases in crime] this summer.” 

There is currently no active re-entry program due to the coronavirus pandemic. Labat claimed, “This is not mass incarceration … we need jail space at this time, not programs.”

Commissioner Arrington informed city council that Fulton County is not in a position to purchase the jail, but that they are in a position to use a portion of the county’s “COVID dollars” to provide “wrap around services,” which would theoretically help avoid prisoner re-entry. Additionally, he said, Fulton County could match the City of Atlanta at approximately $20-30M for a future equity center. All Fulton County Commissioners present were in support of Labat.

There was discussion on the legality of the communication between Chairman Pitts and Mayor Bottoms, as Pitts does not currently have the authority to speak on behalf of the commissioners due to not being appointed by them. For reference, four votes out of the seven board commissioners are required for anything to pass at the county level. Abdur-Rahman argued that going forward, all county commissioners need to be made aware of what the city’s position is in regards to ACDC. 

As discussions continued, Dickens remarked that “he doesn’t think buying the jail, or leasing the whole jail is on the table.” Sheperd said she thinks that “if the mayor was going to close ACDC, she would’ve done it already.”

Negotiations were not concluded at this meeting, with council enacting a resolution adopted on May 3. This resolution establishes an Atlanta-Fulton County joint committee to conduct ongoing assessment and recommendations regarding justice reforms as well as the resolution of the county’s jail overcrowding issue. 

We will continue to report on the future of ACDC and provide important updates as the story develops.Atlanta’s municipal elections, which includes all seats for city council and the mayor’s office, take place this November. The Georgia General Assembly elections take place in the fall of 2022. Stay tuned for more resources and coverage from us ahead of these elections. Subscribe to our newsletter here to stay connected.

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