New memo shows Fulton County, Ga., should rethink proposal for massive new jail

At the request of the Georgia-based Community Over Cages Coalition, the Prison Policy Initiative examined the proposal for a new jail and found serious shortcomings.

by Mike Wessler, June 14, 2024

UPDATE: On July 11, 2024, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to scrap its $2 billion plan to build a new jail, marking an important victory for the advocates who opposed the proposal. Learn more here.

On Wednesday, the Georgia-based Community Over Cages Coalition hosted a press conference at the Fulton County Superior Court and released a new analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative that called into question the county’s proposed massive new jail.

In the 17-page memo, we make three key points:

  1. The overuse of pretrial incarceration hurts communities, and Fulton County is no exception. Pretrial incarceration undermines public safety by increasing the likelihood that people will be arrested in the future by up to 21%. It also harms employment and housing rates, increases overdoses and suicides, and undermines the presumption of innocence by increasing guilty pleas and sentences. These harms fall squarely on the shoulders of Fulton County’s Black and Brown residents, who make up a disproportionate number of people in the jail.
  2. The feasibility study fails to consider alternatives to new jail construction. For example, the study fails to sufficiently consider the possibility of renovations to the existing jail or the impact of decarceration efforts. It also does not take into account the fact that crime rates in Fulton County are falling, not rising.
  3. The feasibility study ignores the reality that a massive new jail would likely exacerbate its existing staffing issues. The feasibility study claims that updating the jail will completely solve staffing shortages and attempts to highlight other jails around the country as “model jails.” However, we show that even in these updated “model” jails, staffing concerns run rampant, jail deaths are on the rise, and conditions in these new facilities are still bad enough that they are leading to human suffering and costly lawsuits. The reality is that there is no “model jail”, and creating a massive new facility will make staffing problems worse, not better.

The Community Over Cages Coalition was formed to oppose the county’s proposal to build a $2 billion new jail. The coalition includes legal experts, people with lived experience in Fulton’s legal system, healthcare providers, and community organizers and activists with a shared goal of a Fulton County that enables the health and safety of all communities.

Is your community seeking to build a new jail or expand the capacity of its existing facility? We’re happy to help you push back on their arguments (drop us a line to tell us about your fight). There is no need to wait, though. We have created a how-to-guide with tips for pushing back on “jail needs assessments” that local leaders put together to justify the construction and provide strategies for pushing back on false or misleading arguments they’re making.

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