Atlanta, Fulton County Look To Cut Jail Population

ATLANTA (AP) — The City of Atlanta and Fulton County have a new tool in place that officials hope will help cut overcrowding in the county jail.

Representatives from each government celebrated last week at the Atlanta City Detention Center, part of which will become the Center for Diversion and Services — a place law enforcement can send people with behavioral health issues instead of booking them into jail, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The center will be based in a repurposed area of the detention center, which has sat mostly empty as the county jail overflowed.

The diversion model is based off a center that services millions in Houston, Texas. The center aims to address the root causes of crime and poverty by providing behavioral health screenings, medical care, sobering rooms, case management, food, and a place to shower.

The center was proposed as a partnership between the city and county, Grady Memorial Hospital and the Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative. It builds on the work over the past few years by PAD, which began as a pilot program in 2017 and has since expanded citywide with support from the mayor and City Council.

“While we’re not 100 percent there, I’m grateful to say that we’ve made more progress under this administration,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Wednesday.

The creation of the center follows a yearlong push by Atlanta activists to close the city detention center and replace it with a community center. But that idea, which Bottoms’ administration backed, faced pushback from the City Council and officials in Fulton County, who have sought to address their own jail overcrowding issues by using space in Atlanta’s facility.

The center was approved through a memorandum of understanding between the partner entities. The city is set to commit $3 million in one-time capital costs and $2.5 million in annual operating costs. The county will also kick in $2.5 million every year toward operations, according to a City Council resolution.

“This center will help every Fulton County resident, every Fulton County taxpayer,” County Commissioners Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said. Commissioner Bob Ellis agreed the center will save money.

The new center gives a new use to the mostly empty detention facility. Still, the detention center's long-term future could depend on the next mayoral administration and new City Council.

The initial agreement lasts two years, with annual options to renew. The two mayoral candidates advancing to a Nov. 30 runoff election, City Council President Felicia Moore and Councilman Andre Dickens, have both said they would keep the jail open, at least in the short-term.

Bottoms said Wednesday she hopes the next mayor will fully re-purpose the facility.