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Local advocates oppose Atlanta City Jail bed lease agreement

ATLANTA (Atlanta Now News at 10) -- The City of Atlanta's plans to lease hundreds of beds to Fulton County inmates is sparking outrage with advocates who say it hurts the most vulnerable.

A group of attorneys and advocates expressed outrage at Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens' announcement that the city plans to lease up to 700 jail beds at the Atlanta City Detention Center. Dickens says the goal is to alleviate the crisis of jail overcrowding in Fulton County. He says it won't affect plans to repurpose the building into the proposed John Lewis Center for Equity and Wellness next year, but opponents disagree.

"The solution cannot possibly be more space for people who cannot afford to pay their way out of jail," said Southern Center for Human Rights Director of Impact Litigation Christina Remlin.

"Although Mayor Dickens has said he is committed to repurposing the jail within a period of four years, we are very clear that a period of four years extends well past Mayor Dickens' first term in office," said SCHR Public Policy Director Tiffany Roberts.

"We're asking for Mayor Dickens to maintain his prior commitment, his promise to close the city jail and to use that for wrap around resources," said Lyndon Waller, the programs director for the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda.

The SCHR has filed several lawsuits filed over the last 30 years addressing jail overcrowding and mistreatment of inmates, defending hundreds of them who are jailed for minor crimes because they can't afford to pay the bail and before they're indicted.

"It's over 650 people who are in for charges such as shoplifting, misdemeanor cases, possession of drugs less than a gram," said SCHR Movement Policy Counsel Devon Franklin.

"Black men feel preyed upon by a criminal justice system that does not take into consideration their challenges or the color of their skin," said John Taylor, co-founder of Black Male Initiative Georgia.

"A main point of contention is a written agreement between the city, Fulton County and Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat.

Among several provisions, SCHR says the agreement allows the sheriff to redefine "overcapacity," it contemplates an extension of the agreement beyond four years and allows for unlimited amendments.

This proposal has been made before, and the people stood together and demanded that something be done," said SCHR Policy Advocate Reverend James "Major" Woodall.

Advocates say there are better solutions. "Find ways to execute consent bonds for people who have bene given bonds, but there are bonds too high for them to make," Roberts said.

Councilmembers could vote on this issue during the next council meeting on August 15.

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