Two-time Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, the current chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, is objecting to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ plan to repurpose the Atlanta Detention Center, instead asking it become a Fulton County jail facility.
Michael Smith, a mayor’s office spokesman, disagreed, saying Norwood’s motives are purely political. Norwood lost to Bottoms by only 832 votes in 2017 and was defeated by Kasim Reed by about 700 votes in 2009.
In a May 30 letter from the council of neighborhoods to Bottoms, City Council President Felicia Moore and city council members and copied to the Fulton Board of Commissioners, Norwood wrote that the old city jail could be converted to a county jail property to house more prisoners in a way to address Fulton’s broken justice system, where repeat offenders have been released on signature or no bond and then committed more crimes.
“There is no greater responsibility for government – at all levels – than protecting the public,” she wrote. “That is why I am requesting that the city of Atlanta evaluate the transfer the City Detention Center (city jail) to Fulton County so that serious offenders – including repeat offenders – can be housed and not released to commit more crimes.
“As you know, the Fulton County Commission offered to purchase the City Jail during the Reed Administration. However, Mayor Reed vastly over-priced the jail, thus, preventing the sale. With a new mayor and city council, I am hopeful that a reasonable negotiation can proceed quickly.”
Norwood included with the letter a 45-page Excel spreadsheet document listing the criminals who were released from the Fulton jail this year on a signature bond. She also requested the process to possibly convert the city jail to a county facility a transparent one.
“It is our understanding that the Fulton County Jail is at – or almost at – capacity,” Norwood wrote. “Therefore, the city of Atlanta’s detention center can play an important role in protecting our innocent citizens and visitors. It is clear that a crisis exists and serious reform is needed regarding perpetrators in our city and county. I am sure that you agree with our concern and that something should be done immediately.”
At its May 20 meeting, the city council voted to approve a resolution to form a task force to evaluate the city jail’s potential new use. According to a city council news release, Bottoms wants to have the city jail converted to a “center or equity” that would “benefit the entire community.” Smith said converting it to a county jail is not the answer.
“If giving the jail away would stop crime, the mayor would sign it over today,” he said. “But the reality is that the revolving door in Atlanta, and America as a whole, is not about a facility. It is about an antiquated belief that locking THEM up and throwing away the key will deter crime.”
Smith also said all but one council member representing Buckhead, except one at-large member, voted in August to approve a resolution calling for the jail to be closed.
“The author’s taking of a contrary stance for self-aggrandization at the expense of other people’s very lives is beneath this city,” he said of Norwood’s stance on the jail. “There is one mayor at a time. The people of Atlanta elected and entrusted the one they chose in 2017 to make meaningful decisions that will change the trajectory of our communities.”