Georgia lawmakers push for jail reform after Reuters investigation

Reuters found 272 inmate deaths among 13 large Georgia jails that spanned more than a decade

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After a Reuters investigation identified hundreds of deaths in the state’s county jails and dangerous lapses in inmate medical care, Georgia lawmakers are pressing for stronger jail oversight.

While examining deaths at more than 500 jails nationwide, Reuters found 272 inmate deaths among 13 large Georgia jails that spanned more than a decade. Approximately 50% of the deaths were caused by a medical condition or illness, and roughly 25% were due to suicide.

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The Reuters’ investigation, titled, “Dying Inside,” exposed healthcare lapses at the jail in Savannah. Another report explored the 2017 death of Chinedu Efoagui, who died at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center after being detained or 512 days without ever being tried on the charges for which he was held.

David Wilkerson, a Georgia state lawmaker who had been planning new jail legislation for the upcoming January session said he intends to cite Reuters’ findings in his proposed reforms.

A Cobb County Democrat, Wilkerson said his proposal will focus on improving mental healthcare in jails, as well as the disclosure and investigation of in-custody deaths.

“It’s impossible for jails to investigate themselves. At the end of the day you’re asking someone who did something wrong to look at themselves,” said Wilkerson. “The public trust is not there.”

In addition to Wilkerson, other state legislators say the series of jail deaths, particularly involving inmates who had not been convicted of their charges, shows the need for enhanced oversight.

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“It is a tragedy. It is malpractice on the part of the state of Georgia, and on the counties,” said Mary Margaret Oliver, a Georgia Democratic lawmaker and former magistrate court judge. She cited substandard mental health care in jails as an issue that must be tackled when lawmakers convene in January.

“Jails are significantly the largest mental health facility in the state,” Oliver said. “And we are not attending to the combination of mental illness, addiction, and significant physical health issues.”

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