Atlanta City Council members, joined by representatives from the city’s department of corrections, toured the Atlanta City Detention Center Friday.
“As we examine legislation to potentially repurpose the jail, I thought it was important for my colleagues and I to visit in person and get a firsthand experience of the center,” Post 3 at-large Councilman Andre Dickens said in a news release. “It is critical that we look at any decision that would impact the citizens of Atlanta. Chief (Patrick) Labat and the department of corrections officers and staff are such a valuable and important part of our city government, and I appreciate their eagerness to show us all the work they are doing at the Atlanta City Detention Center.”
In August, Post 2 at-large Councilman Matt Westmoreland introduced a resolution calling for the jail to be closed. Co-sponsored by council members Jennifer Ide, Amir Farokhi, J.P. Matzigkeit, Dustin Hillis and Andre Dickens, Resolution 18-R-3971 calls for a transparent, community-focused conversation to ensure the safety of the city; determination of how the facility is to be repurposed; determination of the reallocation of funds and a compassionate, employee-centered process to ensure a fair transition for all affected employees. It also stipulates that cost savings from the building’s closure be reinvested in areas of need throughout the city, including public safety, workforce development, code enforcement/neighborhood revitalization, early childhood education, infrastructure improvements and additional public defenders.
18-R-3971 is currently being held in the public safety and legal administration committee, which Hillis chairs.
“As chair of the public safety committee, I understand how important public safety is to our citizens and to the department of corrections,” Hillis said in a news release. “The tour helped us better understand the center's operations, challenges and successes, and the experience will be invaluable as we work with Mayor Bottoms and Chief Labat to determine the best path forward for our city jail."
The city has operated a detention center since the 1950s. It opened its current 1,300-bed facility in 1995 at a cost of $56 million. In fiscal 2018, the center’s operating costs reached $33 million, which included 360 employees.
The center has never reached capacity, in part due to Fulton and DeKalb county jails operating nearby. The nightly inmate population continues to decrease, with most people being held under voluntary detainment contracts with the federal or state government. In February and June of this year, the city implemented two additional policies that have led to a decline in inmates: the elimination of cash bail bonds for certain nonviolent offenses and an executive order that suspended the acceptance of additional detainees from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The center has been leasing extra bed space to other law enforcement agencies to house detainees awaiting court appearances in other jurisdictions.
Post 1 at-large Councilman Michael Julian Bond has requested the city negotiate with the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office for the lease of the center (Legislative Reference No. 18-R-4069). 18-R-4069 is being held in the finance/executive committee.