Last week a judge struck down a plan by the Fulton County Sheriff’s office to send inmates to other states to relieve overcrowding in the Fulton County Jail. But advocates for the recently incarcerated say they have better solutions. 

Women on the Rise is an Atlanta nonprofit organization — run by women who have been affected by the criminal legal system — that works with formerly incarcerated women of color.

The group provides a year of resources to women once they’re released from jail to reintegrate them into society. Executive Director Robyn Hasan-Simpson Bey said its work stops overcrowding by preventing women from returning to jail.

“We’re there to walk them through the process, help them get stable housing, help them with getting a livable wage job,” she said. “Or for some of the mental health issues, we help them file for their benefits, but then we start talking to them to say, 'What led to your incarceration?'”

Women on the Rise is working to secure funding from Atlanta City Council for direct aid to the community to reduce arrests.  Hasan-Simpson Bey said poverty is a big reason so many people are in jail now.

“Nobody wakes up and says, 'Today, I feel like robbing somebody,'” she said. "That's not how it happens. You know, you do it out of a need that's not being met.”

Color of Change, a racial justice organization, said high cash bonds for release are keeping many people in jail waiting as the city works though a backlog of cases. Senior Director of Government Affairs Michael Collins said there are around 11,000 unindicted cases.

“You have people who've been sitting there for years who haven't been indicted," he said. “So all of this is contributing to overcrowding — and it's the overcrowding which is really causing the deaths. You have situations of violence where there aren’t enough staff to keep an eye on people.”

Ten people have died in custody at Fulton County Jail this year. The Department of Justice announced a civil rights investigation into the jail in July.


An earlier version of this story called Color of Change a local social justice organization.