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PRESS ADVISORY: Coalition Launches Community-Led Process to Repurpose Atlanta City Jail


MEDIA CONTACT: Xochitl Bervera, (404) 861-0756

John Legend tweets his support of the city-wide coalition led by formerly incarcerated women

Legislation to create a community driven design process to turn the nearly empty jail into a Center for Wellness and Freedom


WHEN & WHERE: Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 at 5:30pm at the Center for Civic Innovation, 115 MLK Drive SW, Suite 304


WHAT: Discussing successful conversions, and community visioning to close the jail and convert it into a Center for Wellness & Freedom

VISUALS: Renderings of jail and prison conversions, including preliminary ones for Atlanta’s jail


24 years ago, the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) was the “first completed construction project” for the 1996 Olympic Games. The city used the extra jail to sweep the streets and hide away residents who did not match the image city officials wanted to present to the world.

Used almost exclusively to detain people for city ordinance and traffic violations, the extra jail has been used over the decades to squeeze millions of dollars in fines and fees out of the city’s poorest residents.

Over the last 4 years, Women on the Rise, along with other community groups like Southerners on New Ground, have championed a series of reforms that have reduced the population drastically. These include the Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative, marijuana reclassification, the repeal of 40 “Broken Window” ordinances, and bail reform. The daily population at the facility has dropped from between 400-500 each night to as low as 70.  

“The jail is closing, the Mayor has committed to that,” says Carla Taylor, an organizer for Women on the Rise. “But what it will become and who decides is now the question on the table. The community will no longer tolerate back door deals and developers deciding our future. It must be a community-led process that engages the very people who have been harmed by what this building has been.”

“In addition to the facility, ACDC’s $32.5 million operating budget could be used for services that can stabilize people’s lives, giving them a real chance,” says Xochitl Bervera, Director of Racial Justice Action Center. “HIV services, affordable housing, quality child care, and re-entry programs will ensure our collective safety and wellness. What we propose is a values and outcomes based process to determine where this money should be reallocated.”

The group is meeting this Wednesday evening to unveil what they call “preliminary imaginings” of the building and to hear from national experts about other jail and prison repurposing efforts. They will also discuss the proposed legislation that creates a Design Team that will engage all the stakeholders and centers the voices of the people who’ve been most impacted by the jail and the City’s previous policies of criminalizing poverty. They point to a similar process that successfully created the Atlanta/Fulton County Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiative which is known by community and city officials alike as a model program for keeping people out of jail.

“Community groups are key,” says Bervera. “Look what happened when Amazon strong-armed a backroom deal in New York City. We don’t want that to happen here in Atlanta. This legislation creates a smart, equitable design process that has worked in the past and will produce something we can truly be proud of.”

The #CommunitiesOverCages Campaign to #CloseTheJailATL has gained momentum over the last year, garnering media coverage and most recently catching the attention of John Legend this week who tweeted:

Thank you, @KeishaBottoms, for your efforts in Atlanta to reduce incarceration, and for informing me about this community-driven process to #closethejailatl. We encourage you to include the formerly-incarcerated in deciding what the space becomes next!

“The extra jail has never been about improving public safety,” say Marilynn Winn, Women on the Rise founder and Director. “It’s been used to hide people who are really struggling. Let’s have a truly collaborative process to turn the building in something that helps people instead of hiding them.”

More information about the history of the campaign can be found here.


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