Atlanta to Transform City Jail Into Justice and Equality Center Community Space
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Atlanta to Transform City Jail Into Justice and Equality Center Community Space

Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta, crime
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during a press conference. (Image: Twitter/The Hill)

The City of Atlanta is moving forward with a plan to transform its city jail into a space for community services.

According to Fast Company, the city is turning the Atlanta Detention Center, an 11-story jail, housing 1,300 inmates for low-level crimes, into a new center for equity. The project may also include mental health services, re-entry programs, and a credit union, along with room for urban farming, housing, classrooms where students can work on getting a GED, and other community spaces.

Calls to eliminate the current criminal justice system in Atlanta have been growing. However, the death of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by a police officer after he fell asleep at a Wendy’s drive-thru, has applied even more pressure to the city. The cop was fired by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms less than a week after the incident

Last May, Lance Bottoms signed legislation closing the jail, saying use for the jail was shrinking since the city ended cash bail.

“The final closure of this Detention Center symbolizes a new era for the city of Atlanta,” Mayor Lance Bottoms said at the time. “Transforming this space into a Center for Equity replaces City-subsidized incarceration with something more effective—equipping residents with the tools they need to succeed. Taking this critical step will both result in meaningful change for Atlanta and set a new standard for the rest of the nation.”

Plans To Remodel The Former Detention Center

The city is now working with architect Deanna Van Buren, in order to redesign and remodel the building. Van Buren has worked with cities in California, including Oakland, on remodeling spaces.

“We developed a lot of tools, everything from games to interactive models, that we could bring into the community to get their input on what should be put in what’s now called the Center for Equity,” Van Buren told Fast Company.

Van Buren has sent the city various options for the site, which the community will now consider. One proposal will tear down cell walls and create a new facade that floods the space with light. The proposal would also turn existing outdoor recreation spaces into urban farms, bringing a new source of healthy food to the area.

Another proposal includes knocking down the detention center entirely to build three new structures that fit more naturally into the neighborhood. The last proposal includes replacing the detention center with a park, then build smaller “Centers of Equity” throughout the city, instead of at just one central location.

Atlanta community members leading the project’s task force believe replacing the jail will make the city safer.

“People need services, not jail cells,” the group wrote in a new task force report. “The best way to make our city safer is to make it an equitable city. To ensure that opportunities, jobs, and wellness are available to all our city’s residents, including the most vulnerable and marginalized. People do not steal food from the grocery store because they love committing crimes—they steal because they are hungry. It is in everyone’s interest to allow all people to have economic opportunity.”