Marilynn Winn, co-founder and executive director of Women on the Rise, an advocacy organization of formerly incarcerated women of color. Photos: Peyton Fulford

These Formerly Incarcerated Women Fought to Close a Jail and Won

The Atlanta City Detention Center was for those with small violations, but the effect on their lives was tremendous

Victoria Law
Published in
8 min readMar 4, 2020

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“H“Have you ever heard of formerly incarcerated women closing a jail?” That’s the question posed by Marilynn Winn, co-founder and executive director of Women on the Rise, an advocacy organization of formerly incarcerated women of color. Her office looks directly onto the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), a 17-story jail that Winn and Women on the Rise have long fought to close.

Built in 1996, the 1,100-bed jail was intended to hide the homeless and other undesirables during the Olympics. ACDC’s population has largely been limited to those who violate city ordinances, such as walking in the roadway or shoplifting, or traffic laws. (People arrested on more serious charges are sent to the Fulton County Jail.) Until recently, the jail also contracted with ICE, which paid $78 per immigrant per day.

Winn herself has been in ACDC multiple times. Once it was for driving on a license that she hadn’t realized was suspended; other times, it was for shoplifting items she couldn’t afford. Once she was jailed 30 days when she couldn’t pay a $100 fine.

There was nothing to do, she recalled, except sit on the top bunk of her two-person cell, staring out the slits that passed for windows. She picked out Atlanta landmarks or watched the freeway for her friends’ cars. Otherwise, she just waited for her time to end.

Built in 1996, the 1,100-bed jail was intended to hide the homeless and other undesirables during the Olympics.

Winn was in the midst of a drug addiction and hustling to survive. But she saw many others whose lives were ruined after a few days behind bars. “They come in for traffic violations and have to sit there for two weeks,” she said. During that time, they lose their jobs. Without jobs, they risked losing their homes or custody of their children.

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Victoria Law
ZORA
Writer for

Victoria Law is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars.