Atlanta City Council to decide on the fate of the detention center

Published: Aug. 14, 2022 at 9:31 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - An Atlanta City Council meeting to continue discussions about the future of the detention center in Atlanta is scheduled on Monday.

At over 400,000 square ft. and 11 stories high, the detention center has plenty of room for more people than the 50 or so non-violent offenders it usually holds. That is why Fulton County is considering leasing 700 of its beds to help its jail’s overcrowding problem.

“The best solution to overcrowding in jails is de-incarceration,” claimed a medical professional.

About 300 medical professionals signed a letter urging Atlanta City Council to reconsider its proposal that would allow the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office to use the detention for overcrowding. Some of the doctors rallied outside Grady Hospital--campaigning, ‘communities over cages.’

But activists against mass incarceration, including medical professionals, want to see the center transformed into something else altogether. The argument is that it’s cost more to operate as a jail than it could as an equity and wellness center.

“It is well documented and really quite easy to observe that the root causes of crime are poverty, trauma, mental illness and addiction. And the solutions for these are accessible resources, clinical treatment and community support,” said a former nurse for the sheriff’s office jail.

The jail’s future has been contemplated since former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she wanted to close it and make it a place to help the homeless and people with mental health issues. That’s an idea 300 doctors signed off on in a petition to the city to not take the lease offer from Fulton County.

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“Jails are not mental health facilities,” explained a medical activist. Another doctor echoed, “[it’s] a cycle of homelessness, the criminalization of poverty, incarceration, coming to the clinic, we try to heal, and then back to the street again.”

Mayor Andre Dickens said in a recent meeting that he does not want the city to be in the jailing business and he recognizes there is a humanitarian crisis that needs new efforts.

The city council is expected to meet to talk about those efforts on Monday morning. The group of doctors says they will be there at 11:30 a.m. to rally.