ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joined Fulton County Commissioners to announce an agreement to put a pre-arrest diversion center at the city jail. This comes after years of debate on what to do with the jail and overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail.
Bottoms says what she reimagined has come to pass. The Atlanta City Detention Center is now home to a Center for Diversion and Services. “This fight has been a very, very long one, and the fight continues,” she said. The center is designed to help non-violent offenders struggling with mental illness and homelessness without sending them to jail or to a hospital. The city partnered with Fulton County and the Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative (PAD). “They get brought into the judicial system, and it creates a cycle that really just unravels the person,” said District 2 Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis. “Today is a celebration in recognition of what happens when public leaders, despite party label, color, race, or religion, come together to get things done,” said District 6 Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman. “We will keep people safer, put a dent in homelessness and reduce costs for all people.”
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney shared several staggering statistics. “Nearly one in five of every inmate who gets booked into our Fulton County Jail registers on a mental health score of someone needing treatment. Nearly a third of the inmates in our county jail are in there for minor offenses, like criminal trespassing, a simple possession of drugs, a quality of life infraction,” he said, adding how that figure represents over 20,000 detainees over the last five years.
Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat had asked the city to move more inmates to the Atlanta jail to help with overcrowding at the county jail. Labat declined to comment on the diversion center plans. “Rather than build a bigger jail and find other beds, why not find a way to divert some of the people,” McBurney said. Local columnist George Chidi previously chaired a housing subcommittee and questioned why the city chose the jail facility. “We’re asking people who are to be diverted, not to [go to] jail, but to a diversion center, which is in a jail,” he said, explaining it would essentially put people back into a jail-like environment. However, he says opening the center is a step in the right direction. “I am so gratified that they’ve finally been able to figure out a place,” he said.
Officials say the city is renovating the building, and the center is expected to open in 2022.