Groundbreaking ACLU Report Offers Clear Solutions to Overcrowding at Fulton County Jail
On October 12, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Georgia released a report detailing data on overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail and offering recommendations to resolve overcrowding without relying on jail space at the Atlanta City Detention Center. The results of the report offer additional concrete data confirming what SCHR and the Communities Over Cages Alliance have been telling City Council and the Fulton County Commission for months: overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail is a result of mismanagement at many levels of government and can be resolved by implementing processes to release individuals rather than transferring them to a new facility.
The report focuses on four key factors:
- A failure by Fulton County to timely indict cases. There are 515 individuals who have been held in the jail for over 90 days who are still unindicted, meaning they have not been formally charged with a crime. Therefore, they also do not have the option to resolve their case through going to trial or taking a plea deal. All told, 45% of the Fulton County Jail population is unindicted.
- A failure by Fulton County to consider ability to pay in setting cash bail. There are 293 individuals who have been held in the jail for over 90 days due to an inability to afford cash bail. In all, there are 665 people in the jail due to inability to afford cash bail. In other words, 665 people who are in the jail only because they do not have the money to purchase their freedom.
- Detention of people charged only with misdemeanors. There are 242 people in the jail charged only misdemeanors. Whereas jurisdictions like Chatham County generally release individuals charged with misdemeanors, Fulton County’s detention of misdemeanor defendants has contributed to severe overcrowding.
- Failure to fully utilize existing diversion programs. There are 105 people in the jail held only on divertible charges – meaning, for those arrested by the Atlanta Police Department, they could have been referred to the Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative (PAD) instead of being arrested. Additionally, these individuals could now be released from the jail and referred to PAD.
The City of Atlanta and Fulton County should follow the recommendations outlined in the report and recommit to their promise to transform the Atlanta City Detention Center into a Center for Wellness & Freedom.
Southern Center for Human Rights was honored to consult on this report and will continue to advocate for responses to inhumane jail conditions that prioritize decarceration and social services rather than jail expansion and mass incarceration.