Local, News

Atlanta Mayor: Sheriff’s City Jail Plan ‘Expands Incarceration’

Fulton County’s newly elected Sheriff Pat Labat told the Atlanta City Council Thursday that the purchase of the  mostly empty city jail could help overcrowding at the county jail.
Fulton County’s newly elected Sheriff Pat Labat told the Atlanta City Council Thursday that the purchase of the mostly empty city jail could help overcrowding at the county jail.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

Fulton County’s newly elected Sheriff Pat Labat uses Atlanta’s mostly empty jail as overflow for county facilities. He told the city council Thursday, the purchase could help overcrowding at the county jail. The plan appeals to some city council members, but the Atlanta mayor’s office is not convinced.

Sheriff Labat told council members the beleaguered Fulton County jail is over capacity by 13 percent.

“Right now, we have a little over 234 people that are sleeping on what we call ‘boats,’” said Labat, referring to cot-like buckets on the floor.

As former city corrections chief, Labat used to run the city jail he now wants to buy.

“The purchase of ACDC will not only help create a pressure release valve. It will allow us to move into a space where we can treat people more humanely, we can attack COVID a little more aggressively,” said Labat.

His plan includes transferring 17-year-olds and women from their Fulton County facilities. He says he also wants to build a dedicated mental health care unit at the Atlanta jail.

Community organizers have worked for years to close the Atlanta City Detention Center, and Mayor Bottoms promised to do just that in 2019. A city task force to remake the jail into an “equity center” issued recommendations last year.

Sheriff Labat says Fulton County buying and continuing to detain people in the jail would save the city about $18 million a year.

For some council members, anything to alleviate overcrowding, especially during a pandemic, is a tempting offer. Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore recently visited both the city and county facilities. One overcrowded, and the other, nearly empty due to city reforms on bail and marijuana policies.

“I cannot get those images out of my mind, and if you go to both, you will see the stark difference,” said Moore.

But Jon Keen with Mayor Bottoms’ office says Labat’s plan “expands incarceration in the heart of Atlanta.”

“And there are significant issues with the belief that services are best provided and change best happens for low-level offenders when they are incarcerated,” said Keen.

He said the mayor’s vision for criminal justice reform in Atlanta is not about short-term fixes at Fulton County’s jail.