Atlanta City Detention Center May Close, but Some Have Questions
(APN) ATLANTA — On May 20, 2019, the Atlanta City Council voted to approve 19-R-3622, creating a Task Force to consider closing the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) at 254 Peachtree Street SW, in a vote of eleven to one.
The Task Force is called the Task Force to Lead a Comprehensive Process for the Transformation of the Atlanta City Detention Center.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) voted nay. Councilmembers Cleta Winslow (District 4), Marci Overstreet (District 11), and Joyce Sheperd (District 12) were not present for the vote.
Closing the jail is another step in the criminal justice reform efforts by the City of Atlanta to reduce incarceration.
Other criminal justice reforms have included the Pre-Arrest Diversion program; reduction of penalties for minor cannabis possession; the repeal of several miscellaneous crimes in Chapter 106 of the Code of Ordinances, including most recently the former ban on moving household goods at night; and bail reform.
The effort to close the City jail has been led by Marilyn Winn, the Director of Women on the Rise; and Xochitl Bervera, the Executive Director of the Racial Justice Action Center, in partnership with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“This building is a prime location where there was once harm done to people and now they can be healed. It will be a place for people to come to get off the street and join others in unity and to get help,” Winn tells Atlanta Progressive News.
Winn’s vision for the jail is an “Equity, Wellness, and Freedom Center.” It would be a one-stop shop for people who need healthcare, drug addiction programs, mental health care, employment training and development, and education.
The redesigned jail, per Winn’s vision, would have urban gardens, with top floors designated as temporary housing for low-income women and families with 24-hour childcare.
In 2018, Mayor Bottoms signed an executive order prohibiting the city jail from accepting new detainees from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), in response to Trump’s immigration policies that ripped children from their families at the southern border.
All these reforms appear to have led to a decline in the inmate population to only one hundred or fewer inmates on a daily basis, in a jail that has a capacity to hold 1,300 people.
“Transforming this space (ACDC) into a Center for Equity replaces City-subsidized incarceration with something more effective… equipping residents with the tools they need to succeed,” Mayor Bottoms said in a press release.
“It was mostly low-income Black folks, homeless, addicts, mentally ill, sex workers. And most of the people in jail were there for violating a city ordinance and minor traffic violations,” Winn said.
Department of Corrections spokesperson Jamille Brandfield, confirmed that ACDC does not house individuals charged with felonies.
“We only house individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses/City ordinance violations. Individuals charged with violent crimes are typically booked into the Fulton County jail,” Brandfield told APN.
Atlanta Progressive News obtained through an Open Records Act request a list of city offenses committed by those held in ACDC on one particular night: specifically, June 12, the date of the request.
According to the report, a great many of those incarcerated were “in for” driving offenses, including not having a seat belt. Other offenses include:
- Consuming alcohol in public;
- Disorderly conduct;
- Public urination/defecation;
- Destruction of property;
- Distribution of drug related object;
- Failure to carry of exhibit license;
- False representation to police;
- Attempt to elude police;
- Loitering at airport;
- Pedestrian soliciting ride or business;
- Pedestrian walking in roadway;
- Possession of marijuana, some for ounce or less (Not immediately clear why there would be certain arrests for minor cannabis possession, when many receive 75 dollar fines.)
- Unlawful use of a wireless device;
- Use of park between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.;
In 2016, APN reported that the City’s so-called quality of life policies, many of which criminalize homeless people and other marginalized communities, had caused the incarceration of over 100,000 mostly Black men in a three year period between 2012 and 2015.
The Task Force includes stakeholders from The City of Atlanta, Fulton County, DeKalb County, service providers, community organizations, residents, the academic community, the business community, the faith community, public safety representatives, and elected officials.
In addition, the following City departments or individuals are represented: the Chief Operating Officer, Chief Equity Officer, Chief Resilience Officer, City Attorney, Chief Judge Atlanta Municipal Court, Atlanta Police Department Chief, Department of Corrections Chief, and Department of City Planning.
The Council has appointed Antonio Brown (District 3), whose parents were formerly incarcerated; and Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large).
The Task Force will collect public input. This process will take about one year.
VARIOUS CONCERNS FROM BUCKHEAD, COUNCILMAN BOND, HOMELESS ADVOCATES
But not everyone is in agreement on whether ACDC should close; or, if it is closed, what should become of the property.
Former Councilwoman Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large), who is currently Chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, sent a letter to Mayor Bottoms that requesting the ACDC be transferred to Fulton County because the Fulton County Jail on Rice Street NW is near capacity and the County needs more space.
Norwood implies in the letter that the Fulton County Jail is releasing violent, repeat offenders on signature bonds back into the city to commit crimes because it is overcapacity.
Norwood suggested that the Equity Center be located at 72 Marietta Street, the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution building that was donated to the City, where there is abundant space.
“If giving the jail away would stop crime, the Mayor would sign it over today. But the reality is that the revolving door in Atlanta, and America as a whole, is not about a facility. It is about an antiquated belief that locking them up and throwing away the key will deter crime,” Michael Smith, Press Secretary, Mayor’s Office of Communications, told APN.
Meanwhile, Marshall Rancifer, Founder of the Justice for All Coalition, is concerned that many homeless people in Atlanta, especially homeless people who have been formerly incarcerated at ACDC, will not want to reside or seek services in a place where they have been traumatized.
“They come up with these programs and they never ask the homeless their opinion or what they want or what they need as far as services are concerned,” Rancifer said.
“So many homeless people have suffered from either being beaten up in that jail or raped or just being in that jail,” Rancifer claimed.
“Homeless folks don’t want to go into a place where they have spent days on end locked up and traumatized,” Rancifer said.
Councilmember Bond, the only dissenting vote on the ACDC resolution, recommended an amendment that the Equity Center be located on the Key Road property where the old Prison Farm, which is now in ruins, used to be.
“When Gateway was rehabbed, it cost 25 million, and the jail is four times the size of Gateway,” Bond said, referring to the Gateway Center homeless shelter.
“It would be a less expensive option to build a new facility [on Key Road] than to rehab our existing jail,” Bond said
Finally, no one seems to have addressed what will happen to people who are incarcerated under municipal offenses once ACDC is closed.
That is, even if the Council and Mayor continue to repeal victimless crimes, or continue to reduce penalties to remove the possibility of jail time, there will likely still be some crimes remaining on the municipal books. It is not clear where those people would be jailed, should ACDC be closed, although Rice Street is clearly not the answer.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)