Growing coalition opposes $1.7B Fulton County Jail proposal, advocates for diversion programs

Opposition against the proposal to build a new Fulton County Jail is growing.

Now a new coalition of nonprofits and community groups says the County should focus on diversion programs instead.

However, the Sheriff's Office asserts that a new jail is essential to solving the fatal flaws plaguing the facility.

More than two dozen inmates have died in custody or following medical emergencies there since 2022.

LaShawn Thompson was found dead in his cell covered in bed bugs last year, prompting a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Office maintains the aging Rice Street Jail must be replaced to prevent further inmate deaths.

But Fallon McClure, Deputy Director for Policy and Advocacy at the ACLU of Georgia, says the facility itself isn't the problem.

"It's not the building that is killing people; it's the system," McClure said.

ACLU GA is now part of the new Community over Cages coalition, which was formed specifically to oppose the proposal for a new jail.

A Fulton County sanctioned feasibility study said it would cost around $1.7 billion.

However, McClure suggests there are many other, less expensive alternatives to reduce overcrowding at the jail, such as "better utilization of policing alternatives and diversion programs."

These programs allow police to divert minor offenses related to mental health, substance use, and extreme poverty to community responders.

Using funds to instead expand that program would greatly reduce the number of people in the jail, McClure says.

"APD, Georgia Tech Police, and MARTA Police are the only jurisdictions in Fulton County that can utilize the service. So we would suggest considering expanding it to all the cities within Fulton County," McClure said.

Fulton County Jail

Fulton County Jail (FOX 5)

Earlier this month, Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. weighed in on the issue.

"I agree we need to stop mass incarceration. But that’s a completely separate issue from how we as commissioners are safely and humanely housing people," he said.


The Fulton County Sheriff's Office was not available for an interview but provided a statement saying they stand by the jail feasibility study's findings commissioned and funded by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners: that the Rice Street jail needs to be replaced. According to them, the challenges plaguing the jail are worsening day by day and the deteriorating structure is indeed a problem.

"Sheriff Labat has been very transparent about the critical need for better conditions at the jail. We are housing detainees accused of the most violent offenses in the county. Because of the failing physical plant, detainees are using parts of the building to fashion makeshift weapons that pose a danger to each other and to our team," the statement reads.

But Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts believes that the idea that the only way to solve the jail's problems is by building a new one is "nonsense."

While he agrees with the Coalition that more diversion efforts are needed, he argues that the solution may lie in renovating the jail rather than replacing it.

"If we renovate and the number is $100 million, or let's assume it's $150 million, maybe $200 million, that’s still a hell of a lot less than $2 billion," Pitts said.

He added that support among Fulton County Commissioners for funding a $1.7 billion jail is also waning.

"At this point in time, there are not four members of the Board of Commissioners who will vote to raise taxes to build a new $2 billion jail. That's not going to happen," Pitts said.