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Press Release: Communities Over Cages Alliance Denounces Passage of Legislation to Lease City Jail to Fulton County

The legislation represents a step back for Atlanta, expands the city’s jailing business, and reverses course on years of work to repurpose the city jail as a community resource center.

Atlanta, GA – The Communities Over Cages Alliance, a coalition of over 40 Atlanta organizations, is strongly denouncing the passage of legislation to lease 700 beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) to Fulton County for four years.

Despite sponsoring legislation in 2019 to close and repurpose the jail, Mayor Dickens has turned his back on not just his prior commitments, but on the communities who have supported him; on the advocates who he once worked with; on the human rights organizations who once counted him as an ally; and on the family of John Lewis, which has supported transforming the city jail into the John Lewis Center for Health and Wellness.

“Mayor Dickens has shown us who he is: a politician with no backbone who bends to the wishes of corporations and police instead of standing up for the community that voted him into office,” said Devin Barrington-Ward, Managing Director of the Black Futurists Group. “The Mayor would rather travel overseas to overstate his human rights accomplishments, as he did last week, than actually promote human rights in the city he runs.”

The final vote in favor of the legislation was 10 to 4, with the sole “no” votes coming from the few councilmembers with the courage to do the right thing: Councilmembers Keisha Waites, Liliana Bakhtiari, Jason Dozier, and Antonio Lewis. The remaining councilmembers who voted in favor of the lease—Matt Westmoreland, Amir Farokhi, Alex Wan, Jason Winston, Michael Julian Bond, Mary Norwood, Howard Shook, Dustin Hillis, Marci Collier Overstreet, and Andrea Boone—have disregarded the many constituents who have dedicated four years to the repurposing transforming the jail into a human services and community resource hub.

The councilmembers who voted in favor of the lease did so without any data or evidence justifying Fulton County’s supposed need for jail space in the Atlanta City Detention Center. Councilmembers Westmoreland, Farokhi, Boone, Overstreet, Shook, and Hillis each voted to repurpose the jail in 2019, but joined Mayor Dickens in his betrayal of community advocates today to vote in favor of the lease.

“This is a slap in the face to formerly incarcerated people who have clearly told the Mayor that this lease is not a humanitarian solution, but rather a deadly one that will fill up an empty jail instead of providing much-needed community services,” said Robyn Hasan, Executive Director of Women on the Rise.

“We already know that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problems of poverty, homelessness, mental health challenges, and trauma. This lease further undermines public safety by  needlessly filling up a jail rather than taking the opportunity to convert the jail into a place for community wellbeing,” said Tiffany Roberts, Public Policy Director at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

There are multiple barriers to the implementation of this lease. It must first pass the Fulton County Commission, and then will face implementation issues as the Fulton County Sheriff continues to experience challenges hiring enough employees to adequately staff his facilities. The City of Atlanta has also opened itself to being ensnared in the decades of litigation faced by Fulton County for its mismanagement.

There were several amendments to the final legislation. One of note, introduced by Councilmember Jason Dozier, required the issuance of a 90-day jail population review study before the implementation of the lease agreement. Councilmembers Dozier, Waites, Bakhtiari, Wan, Winston, Farokhi, Lewis, and Shipman voted in favor of the amendment, which provides the public with a valuable time to evaluate who is in the Fulton County Jail simply because they are too poor to afford cash bail.

“This campaign is far from over,” said Indy Easley, Lead Organizer with Women on the Rise. “We will continue to work to stop the implementation of this lease, beginning on Wednesday at the Fulton County Board of Commissioners meeting. Those who fight for justice cannot and will not rest.”