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As Fulton County Deals With Overcrowded Jail, Groups Voice Concern

Social justice advocates demonstrate outside the Fulton County Government Center on Wednesday. They are concerned about jail overcrowding and some plans to relieve it.
Social justice advocates demonstrate outside the Fulton County Government Center on Wednesday. They are concerned about jail overcrowding and some plans to relieve it.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE
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There’s an overcrowding problem at the Fulton County jail.

On Tuesday night, nearly 200 inmates slept on temporary beds known as “boats”.

“If I could and my colleagues could release and get everyone out of a ‘boat’ today, we would,” said Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts. “We simply do not have the authority to do so.”

Pitts said commissioners get the blame for jail overcrowding, but he said it’s judges and prosecutors who decide who’s incarcerated.

During their regular meeting Wednesday, commissioners put off a vote on a budget increase for Superior and State courts.  Pitts said some judges need to work more.

“They are elected, just as we are elected. We’re not their bosses, we cannot tell them what to do or cannot tell them how many hours to work each day. But they know who they are,” Pitts said.

Pitts said the jail population, while still over capacity, has been going down recently thanks to efforts such as the use of ankle monitors and releasing inmates who “pose no threat” to the community. It also contracts with nearby counties to send inmates elsewhere, such as Gwinnett County.

Pitts said the county would consider sending inmates to the Atlanta City Detention Center as well if the city would be willing to accept them.

But that runs counter to Atlanta’s plan to close the ACDC, says Devin Barrington-Ward with the Black Futurists Group. He’s on the panel deciding the future of the the Atlanta facility.

“I think that would drastically shake the confidence of task force members to see that we are not actually moving towards the vision we had agreed to, which is that this facility should be used for equity and freedom and not to hold anyone in cage,” said Barrington-Ward.

The City of Atlanta has not responded to a request for comment.  The jail task force meets again in September.

Jill Cartwright with Southerners on New Ground said Fulton County should make use of the pre-arrest diversion initiative already in place in Fulton County.

“We are asking that they actually invest in that program and actually give more resources in order to prevent people from arrested unnecessarily in the first place,” said Cartwright.

Black Futurists Group and Southerners on New Ground were among those who gathered Wednesday to voice concern about jail overcrowding in Fulton and the possibility of inmates being sent to the ACDC.