With negotiations stalled in a possible plan to move some Fulton County Jail prisoners to the Atlanta City Detention Center to address overcrowding, the county is giving the city until June 15 to move forward.
Fulton Sheriff Patrick “Pat” Labat wants to move 500 inmates to the city jail, but Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is offering only 150 beds so far.
“This is just an opportunity to give us the ability to proceed,” District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. said. “… Based on the city of Atlanta’s response, it appears this is an issue exclusively for the sheriff, and our role is just to offer additional funding. No short-term or long-term lease or purchase involved and it’s strictly inmate beds. I believe this is just for our sheriff. But certainly we need to do what we can to help.”
Arrington spoke on the issue at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ June 2 meeting at Assembly Hall in downtown Atlanta, where the board voted 7-0 to approve a resolution on negotiations between the city and the county for the detention center’s temporary use.
The vote came nearly a month after the Atlanta City Council voted 15-0 to approve its own resolution urging the city and county to reach an agreement by May 31. However, since all resolutions are non-binding, the deadlines may not be enforced.
If the deal was not done by May 31, a city-county joint committee will be created to evaluate and provide recommendations regarding justice reforms. The committee would include Bottoms, Labat and representatives of the council and board of commissioners, and no meetings have been set yet.
The board of commissioners’ vote came after it and the sheriff met with the council’s public safety and legal administration committee’s May 27 work session about the issue.
As part of an overall plan to reform Atlanta’s justice system by making some minor crimes no longer jailable offenses, Bottoms plans to close the city jail and turn it into the Centers of Equity, which would provide diversion and/or accountability programs for individuals who commit minor crimes. But she may put that plan on hold to allow for the city-county jail deal.
The county jail, located on Rice Street in west Midtown and 32 years old, was built to house 2,591 prisoners. But as of May 26, Sheriff Patrick “Pat” Labat said, it was holding nearly 3,000, with 267 inmates having to sleep in makeshift beds called boats. Conversely, the 26-year-old detention center, four miles away downtown, can hold about 1,300 inmates but currently averages 150 or less per day.
Fulton is housing prisoners at four facilities: the main Rice Street jail, another on Jefferson Street in west Midtown, the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail in Union City and the Alpharetta Jail in Alpharetta.
In a May 12 interview, Robb Pitts, the board of commissioners’ chair, said it would cost the county $400 million to $500 million to build a new jail, and it would take five to seven years to construct.
County Manager Dick Anderson said it’s the city’s turn to respond.
“This has been the biggest rain dance that I’ve ever seen because we have been crystal clear verbally with their chief operating officer, in a letter sent back to them, that a LOI (letter of intent) for 150 beds was totally inadequate and we’ve said explicitly, what we need is 500 beds,” he said. “Now for them to continue to say they’re waiting, they’re looking for it, it’s lost in the mail, cannot be what they’re presenting it to be.”