In wake of ACLU report, Atlanta keeps population study requirement in detention center lease

External view of the former Atlanta City Detention Center located on Peachtree Street Southwest in South Downtown.

There’s no denying Fulton County jails are overcrowded.  And that’s why the City of Atlanta agreed to lease the Atlanta City Detention Center to the sheriff’s department earlier this year.

However, a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia suggests that the primary issue lies not within the lack of beds in the jail, but the excessive amount of people held on misdemeanor crimes and lack of bond payments that are eligible for release.

On this edition of “Closer Look,” Fallon McClure, deputy director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Georgia, discusses the criteria behind the report and how overcrowding can potentially be reduced without leasing the detention center.

“We went into this with the question of ‘why are these people in the jail?’” McClure said. “From there, we were pretty sure that we could, once we looked at who was there, make the case of why so many people shouldn’t be there. And that is exactly what this report shows.”

Using jail population data provided by the sheriff’s office, McClure and her team found that 2,892 people were being held in custody with around 2,591 beds available. Through further analysis of those in custody, the ACLU found that there were roughly 700 people held on inability to pay bonds, misdemeanor charges, or long-term indictments that were eligible for release.

“I think the narrative around this has been ‘these are violent criminals that need to be in the jail to protect our safety,’ and that is not the case,” said McClure.

While McClure does not deny the need for adequate safety and comfort for those held, she believes that changes in policy will create a more long-standing solution than just granting Fulton County more space to hold more detainees.

“We recognize that there is a humanitarian crisis. We don’t want people to be sleeping on the floor. But what’s very important is that we don’t solve this program in the immediate, but we solve it long-term,” said McClure. “The facts show that there are too many people in custody, and we can make some rule changes.”