The Atlanta City Detention Center is expected to soon house up to 700 Fulton County inmates as part of a lease agreement between the two governments. Fulton

The Atlanta City Council received a new report Nov. 18 from the Justice Policy Board that provides insight into the populations at the city and Fulton County jails.

The report was required by the City Council in August as part of its legislation to approve leasing up to 700 beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center to Fulton County.

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat and Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts have said the ACDC beds are needed to alleviate severe overcrowding at its jails. But many on the City Council believe there are other ways to reduce jail overcrowding, such as pre-booking diversion.

City Council President Doug Shipman said in a statement that the report was a “critical phase in our due diligence.”

“The council will review it and it has been sent over to the mayor. As outlined in the legislation the council approved, now that we have received this study, it gives the mayor the authorization to move forward,” Shipman said.

A city spokesperson said today, Nov. 21, that per the ordinance, the “city of Atlanta will proceed with entering into an intergovernmental agreement with Fulton County on the use of the Atlanta City Detention Center.”

The Jail Population Review Report

The Justice Policy Board is co-chaired by Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney and City Councilmember Dustin Hollis, chair of the public safety committee.

Experts on the committee included team of researchers established and led by William Sabol, professor in Criminal Justice & Criminology in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University; Stefanie Lopez-Howard, director of the Statistical Analysis Center of the state of Georgia’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; and Rebecca Brown, Founder and President of the justice-focused consulting firm Further The Work.

The board’s 116-page Jail Population Review Committee report sought to answer a series of questions from the council, including data on “total populations, the offenses which detainees are booked under, the average length of detention, the average bond issued per violation, the reasons for detainee release, and the frequency of the charging of each offense.”

The board decided to use a sample selection of all people booked into all of the jails in the Fulton County jail system between Jan. 1, 2016, through Aug. 31, 2022. But many questions, as noted in the table below, could not be answered due to insufficient data, according to the report.

The Justice Policy Board’s Jail Population Review Committee posed seven research questions for the City Council report, but only three could be fully with the data made available for this project, according to the report.

The report said length of stay “increased slowly and relatively constantly pre-pandemic [March 14, 2020], reaching an average of about 40 days in the month prior to the onset of the pandemic-induced lockdown, up from about 35 days in January 2018.”

“With the onset of the pandemic, length of stay increased considerably, plausibly reaching 80 days on average by 2020,” according to the report.

“Since peaking, it has fallen to about 45 days by August 2022. The pandemic lockdown that led to the mid-2020 increase in length of stay contributed significantly to the increase in the jail population,” the report said.

“This increase in length of stay occurred as a result of massive reductions in the court processes that would lead to releases and case disposition. As the court processes reopened, and the backlog of cases diminished, length of stay fell and by August 2022, it reached a level that was expected by the pre-pandemic trend (increase).”

The report includes a one-day snapshot analysis of 250 individual cases of those locked up in the Fulton County Jail on Sept. 14, 2022, to identify factors contributing to length of stay.

Some initial findings from the snapshot, according to the report, show 47 people (19% of the 250 cases) were held in custody on an unindicted non-violent felony case, and 75 individuals (30% of the sample set) were being held in custody due to inability to make bond.

The report also said 59 people (24% of the sample set) had a bond of $5,000 or less, and 30 people (36%) had a bond between $5,000 and $10,000.

The jail population review requested within 90 days meant diving deep into data but refraining from substantial policy analysis, said McBurney and Hollis in their letter to Shipman as part of the report.

The fundamental recommendation from the board is that it continue its work to answer questions and suggest policies to address the growing jail population.

Questions to be examined, they said, include why are there longer stays in jail for the chronically unhoused, and is crime truly up or are the city and county underinvested in diversionary resources.

Other conclusions:

The pandemic has had a lasting effect on the jail population that the data suggest may be starting to mitigate. However, it will require more time and study to address the cumulative effects that appear to have increased shares of felony bookings, lengths of stay, and changes in the charge composition associated with the jail population.

A multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the factors affecting the lengths of stay for individual people in Fulton County jail can benefit from collective analysis and interventions.

A qualitative analysis of cases revealed that multiple factors – from bail policies and practices to case processing delays – can affect a person’s length of stay in Fulton County jails.

Understanding the factors that drive jail use is a catalytic opportunity to reduce incarcerationwhile advancing both safety and equity for the people of the City of Atlanta and Fulton County. The Jail Population Review Committee recommend its continuation.

Fulton officials react to ACLU report on Fulton jail population

The Justice Policy Board’s report was submitted to the City Council two days after the Fulton County Board of Commissioners admonished ACLU representatives for the organization’s recent report on overcrowding at the Fulton jail.

The ACLU report said transferring Fulton inmates to the Atlanta City Detention Center was unnecessary. Fulton County could reduce its jail population by more than 700 if detainees were indicted within 90 days, for example, according to the report.

“I want to be clear that our report was never intended to be the final answer on solving the overcrowding problem,” Fallon McClure, the ACLU of Georgia’s deputy director of policy and advocacy, told commissioners at the Nov. 16 meeting.

“We believe that the Jail Population Review Committee of the Justice Policy Board has always been in a much better position to do this study and have better findings,” she said.

Commissioner Bob Ellis called the report “ACLU nonsense.” Alton Adams, Fulton’s COO for Public Safety/Justice, accused the ACLU of saying District Attorney Fani Willis was not fulfilling her duties after pointing out some indictments were taking longer than 90 days.

“Could I read this and come to the conclusion that you feel that our DA is incompetent?” he asked. “I mean, that’s essentially what you said.”

Dyana Bagby

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