Atlanta Mayor Signs Legislation Aimed At Closing City Jail

May 28, 2019

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed legislation Tuesday aimed at closing the city's jail. 

Standing outside the city's detention center, surrounded by community advocates, Bottoms approved forming a task force to determine how to close and repurpose the facility.  

"As we transition out of the jail business in the city of Atlanta, and we transition away from the concept of mass incarceration, it doesn't mean that we are soft on crime,” Bottoms said. “It means that we are taking a proactive step of being one step ahead of crime in our city."

The jail's population has declined to about 100 a day since the city ended cash bail and terminated its contract with federal immigration enforcement.  

Population at the 400,000 square foot facility has fallen to around a hundred inmates a day. It costs the city about $32 million to operate.
Credit Ross Terrell / Georgia Public Broadcasting

Before, people arrested on a non-violent offenses could spend days and sometimes weeks in jail because they couldn’t afford bail, which had to be paid in cash.

Now, you can be released on your own recognizance.

Last year, Bottoms announced the city was ending its contract with ICE and would no longer accept U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements detainees.

The announcement came in response to President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.

Marilyn Winn, who was formerly incarcerated and helped lead the effort to close the jail, thanked the mayor for making approving historic legislation.

“I for one, have been in this extra jail,” Winn said. “Now, I am a part of closing and repurposing this jail to a center for equity, wellness and freedom.”   

She said with Fulton and DeKalb County jails, there was never a need for this one to be built and hold people who only violated city ordinances.

Bottoms said she hopes to start transforming the space before her current term ends in 2021. 

She said the city has already started to assign jail staffers to other departments and some have even opted to retire.

The jail costs about $32 million a year to operate. But Bottoms said people shouldn’t expect that to just be a free pot of money.

“We still physically have to maintain this space,” she said. “Because some of this personnel is going to other places in the city, those dollars essentially are being repurposed in other places.”

Advocates in favor of closing the jail, said they hope the space is serving a better purpose within the next 3 to 5 years.