Activist groups are lining up to help Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms with a new plan to sell off the city jail. The facility has become a financial burden following a streak of criminal justice reforms.
The detainee population at the Atlanta City Detention Center has dropped dramatically. City Corrections officials say recently that up to about 150 people are held there on a given day. This time last year, that number was closer to 700.
About a tenth of the building’s capacity is being used to house inmates.
On Monday, the Atlanta City Council saw an early draft of legislation that would close the facility.
Marilynn Winn leads the advocacy group Women on the Rise. She calls Atlanta’s detention center “the EXTRA jail.”
“It exists in addition to Fulton and DeKalb county jails and houses people merely for traffic and city ordinance violations,” Winn told City Council members.
The building also holds a dwindling number of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. Bottoms stopped accepting those detainees in June, in response to President Donald Trump’s immigrant family separation policy.
An activist campaign to close the city jail was born at the same time. Just months later, Xochitl Bervera, with the Racial Action Justice Center, has a proposal ready.
“So we come with a solution, and we have a policy brief here today that we want to share with you,” Bervera said.
Her group is one of a coalition of advocacy organizations behind changes to Atlanta policy like bail reform, reclassifying marijuana charges and pre-arrest diversion. She says the same model for community input can work to decide the jail’s future.
Operating the facility costs the city of Atlanta $33 million a year.
Activist Devin Barrington-Ward told the City Council that whatever happens must be a step toward helping the city’s most marginalized groups.
“Use the savings to invest in the communities who have been impacted by 20-plus years of using the police and the jail to address problems caused by white supremacy and institutionalized racism,” Barrington-Ward said.
He was one of several speakers who discouraged the idea of directing any sale proceeds toward Atlanta police.
Bottoms had introduced the idea of selling the detention center in a Fox 5 interview late last week. That news spot included the idea of reappropriating jail funds to city law enforcement. The mayor’s office has not offered any further details on any plan.
City Council is expected to start discussing next steps during its Public Safety Committee meeting next week.