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'There are no criminals there': Community activists push for Atlanta to close the city jail

This investigation looks at all sides of the argument to close or keep the city detention center. After years of the debate, where are we now?

Matt Pearl, Lindsey Basye

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Published: 11:05 PM EDT May 23, 2021
Updated: 11:33 AM EDT October 1, 2021

An Atlanta building, barely a quarter-century old, stands tall on the city's south side. But it's the history and the community's battle over the building that casts an even bigger shadow. 

Built in the '90s as Atlanta won the bid to host the Olympics, the Atlanta City Detention Center made national headlines. 

It was made to house low-risk individuals who violate city ordinances and commit low-level offenses. Around the same time, the city passed an ordinance that made loitering a new punishable offense. 

The community pushed back saying it was a way to penalize the homeless population and rid the city streets of them. 

Since the '90s the debate has only grown over the use of the jail, with many voices on the side of closing the jail as well as many saying the jail needs to remain open, but "reimagined". 

The conversation around criminal reform has noticeably changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the spike in crime in Atlanta. 

Here's what the community, advocates on both sides, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had to say about whether the jail should or should not close.

 WATCH | Extended interview with Mayor Bottoms at bottom of story

Credit: WXIA

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