Sheriff urges Atlanta mayor to allow inmates in city detention center to ease humanitarian crisis in Fulton jail

ATLANTA — There is a growing fight over the Atlanta City Detention Center. The county said it is out of space and needs help from the city of Atlanta.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she’s willing to help, but Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said Thursday that the mayor hasn’t spoken to him.

Labat told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne this is about a humanitarian crisis, with inmates sleeping on the floor.

He said he likes and respects Bottoms and they’ve been friends since high school. But she has not had a substantive conversation with him about how she can help get men off the floor of the jail in months.

“Some may say Fulton County Jail is overcrowded by 500 inmates. This is nothing new. Overcrowding at Fulton County Jail goes back at least a decade. Perhaps even two,” Bottoms said.

“We’re in the middle of a crime crisis, and we need to figure out how to work together to solve it,” Labat said. “I find it very insensitive given that we have a duty, and I have a constitutional obligation, to house people humanely, and the floor is not the place to do that.”

Labat said he is legally responsible for keeping inmates under lock and key in the Fulton County Jail.

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“The sole responsibility for determining the care and custody of Fulton County inmates is me, as the sheriff,” Labat said.

The sheriff told Winne that Bottoms holds the key to unlocking a potential temporary solution to overcrowding if she made space available in the lightly used Atlanta City Detention Center.

“As we speak, there are 291 people that are sleeping on floor devices called boats,” Labat said. “My last information from the City of Atlanta Detention Center, they’re housing 31 people. They have 1,314 beds.”

Labat said he’s spoken to Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens about housing roughly 500 Fulton inmates in the Cobb County Jail if the Atlanta City Detention Center is not available. He said the county has outsourced inmates before, but the Cobb County solution would cost between $5 and $7 million a year.

Bottoms said the city of Atlanta has extended a good-faith offer to Fulton County officials.

“We have sent a letter of intent offering to accept 150 inmates who are transitioning out of their sentences to allow them to come to the Atlanta Detention Center and to be a part of a work-training program as they transition back into our community,” Bottoms said.

Labat said the county jail mostly holds pretrial inmates, and that not many of them finish a sentence. He estimates fewer than two dozen prisoners would meet the mayor’s criteria.

“Chairman Robb Pitts and I have had several discussions about the city detention center. The ball is in Fulton County’s court right now,” Bottoms said.

Labat told Winne that the mayor was right to include Fulton Commission Chair Robb Pitts on the proposal but should’ve included the sheriff, too.

“We will continue to evaluate after we get the first 150 to determine if we have the capacity for more,” Bottoms said.

“I don’t want to miss this historic opportunity to do the right thing,” Labat said.

A spokesman for the mayor indicated 150 inmates would engage in the city’s re-entry programs and have the opportunity to re-enter society with a well-paid job. The mayor stated Fulton County’s all-or-nothing approach will not solve their long-standing overcrowding issues and the city is waiting in good faith for a response to the offer.

Labat said the county has a re-entry program, and the city would have to restart theirs.