Dozens of activists rallied at Atlanta City Hall on Aug. 15 to protest the city’s proposal to lease 700 beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center to Fulton County. (Dyana Bagby)

UPDATE: The Atlanta City Council approved Aug. 15 controversial legislation to lease up to 700 beds at the city jail to Fulton County for four years that officials say will alleviate overcrowding at the county jail. 

The vote was 10-4 to approve the ordinance during a lengthy and sometimes contentious meeting. Voting in favor were Councilmembers Michael Julian Bond, Mary Norwood, Matt Westmoreland, Dustin Hillis, Andrea Boone, Jason Winston, Alex Wan, Marci Collier Overstreet, Amir Farokhi and Howard Shook. Voting against the measure were Councilmembers Keisha Sean Waites, Jason Dozier, Liliana Bakhtiari and Antonio Lewis. Councilmember Byron Amos was absent. 

The lease agreement with the county, backed by Mayor Andre Dickens, was expected to go into effect immediately upon approval by the city and county. An amendment to the legislation by Councilmember Jason Dozier, however, requires city and county justice policy officials conduct a “Jail Population Review Report” of Fulton County Jail detainees within 90 days before the lease agreement would go into effect. 

The report would include an analysis the jail populations of the city of Atlanta and Fulton County, the offenses detainees are booked under, the average length of detention, the average bonds issue per violation and the reasons for detainee release, Dozier said.

The council voted 7-7 to approve Dozier’s amendment. Voting in favor of Dozier’s amendment were Dozier, Waites, Bakhtiari, Winston, Wan, Farokhi and Lewis. Opposed to the amendment were Bond, Norwood, Westmoreland, Hillis, Boone, Overstreet and Shook.

Council President Doug Shipman broke the tie in favor of the amendment. A crowd of people opposed to the city jail lease that stayed for the hours-long meeting applauded the vote.

“Myself, several of our colleagues, members of the general public have asked for data, have asked for information, have asked for a greater understanding of the existing incarcerated population at Rice Street [the county jail],” Dozier said.

“The data piece is so critically important for a decision of this size,” Dozier said.

Check back for more updates about the meeting and vote. 

PREVIOUS STORY: Dozens of activists rallied at Atlanta City Hall today, Aug. 15, to speak out against the proposed legislation to lease 700 beds of the city’s mostly empty detention center to alleviate overcrowding at Fulton County Jail.

The City Council is slated to vote on the lease agreement during today’s council meeting. The expected vote comes after another violent and deadly weekend in the city. The Fulton County Commission is expected to consider approving the agreement at its Aug. 18 meeting.

The rally was organized by a number of organizations, including Community over Cages Alliance, led by Women on the Rise. Activists said they want the Atlanta City Detention Center, a 17-story high-rise jail, that opened in 1995, to be transformed into a health and wellness center. The site would be a place where communities could access social services, such as emergency housing, mental health, alcohol, and drug treatments programs. Offering such services to non-violent offenders would help keep vulnerable populations out of jail and alleviate overcrowding, they say.

Those at the rally held up signs that said, “Doctors Against Jail Expansion,” “Close the Extra Jail Replace with Center for Equity and Wellness,” “Care not cuffs” and “Healthcare and housing are public safety.”

An activist at the Aug. 15 rally opposing the City Council proposal to lease city jail space to Fulton County. (Dyana Bagby)

The city’s Policing Alternatives & Diversion Intiatives (PAD) issued a statement against the lease agreement, saying the group so far this year 176 people who could have been booked and detained at the Fulton County jail were instead diverted to PAD. 

“This means that in the last six months there were 176 people who did not end up in the Fulton County jail because of activities related to homelessness, to poverty, to substance use, and to disturbances due to mental health crises. Diversion is an immediate solution to jail overcrowding,” PAD said.

The Southern Center for Human Rights has spoken out about its decades of lawsuits against the Fulton County Jail. Opening up beds at the ACDC to house Fulton inmates will not solve the “humanitarian crisis” in Fulton’s jails, the organization said.

Much of the planning toward “reimagining” what to do with the city jail was reported via task force recommendations during former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration. Mayor Andre Dickens, when he served on the council in 2019, sponsored the resolution to “reimagine the Atlanta Detention Center as a Center for Equity.”

The lease agreement for 700 beds was approved by the City Council’s public safety committee last week. Mayor Andre Dickens addressed the committee after a violent weekend in Atlanta to voice support for leasing beds to Fulton County.

“What do we want?” a rally organizer yelled during a rally at Atlanta City Hall. “Jails closed!” the crowd responded. (Dyana Bagby)

The mayor told the committee he is not in the “jailing business” but most of the inmates at the Fulton County Jail were arrested in the city of Atlanta. He said leasing city beds to the county was the “humanitarian” and responsible action for the city to take.

Fulton County’s Rice Street jail can hold roughly 3,100 people, but is so overcrowded that hundreds of men are forced to sleep on the floor, according to Sheriff Pat Labat.

The Atlanta City Detention Center has 1,300 beds but at most has roughly 100 to 200 inmates at any time.

The lease agreement would require Fulton County to pay the city $50 a day for each inmate housed at the city detention center during the four years. The city would also be entitled to 65% of the phone and commissary fees incurred by the Fulton County inmates while staying at ACDC. 

Should Fulton County house inmates longer than four years, the rates would jump to $150 a day per inmate.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.