Georgia Democrats to Push for More Funding for County Jails

by Nyamekye Daniel



A group of Democratic lawmakers in Georgia wants more state funding for local jails to improve mental health services and accountability.

Reps. Sandra Scott, D-Rex; Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta; and David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, held Monday the first of a series of town hall meetings focused on jail reform.

The lawmakers said many constituents have complained about a lack of oversight, which has led to neglect and deaths in county jails.

“This is a very important issue, not only because it’s a human rights issue, but it’s because these are the people that we know deserve better and fair treatment,” Schofield said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to look at legislation regarding and accountability oversight on mental health, making sure that the needs are met.”

Lawmakers heard testimony Monday from law enforcement, attorneys and family members of people who died in county jails.

Tynesha Tilson said her 22-year son Shali Tilson’s naked, lifeless body was found in a Rockdale County Jail cell after he was arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Shali Tilson was having a mental crisis and died from severe dehydration despite being under suicide watch, his mother said. He was beaten six times and lost 20 pounds during the nine days he was held in jail on a $6,000 bond, she said.

“My son was tortured in that Rockdale County jail,” Tynesha Tilson said. “For someone to die of severe dehydration in a suicide cell that requires 15-minute checks, that never happened.”

Tynesha Tilson said she watched video footage of her son banging on the door and pleading for help during the final minutes of his life in 2018. The county has yet to answer questions about his death, she said.

Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens said the Cobb County jail had 10 deaths in the last year-and-a-half. He believes the solution for the problem in his jail is increasing staff levels, modernizing equipment and upgrading the facility.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to do the right thing to be good stewards of the county and to make sure that everyone that walks into this facility is treated with dignity and respect,” Owens said.

Owens said before he became sheriff, the office was completing its own death investigations. Now, Owens recruits the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for assistance to ensure more transparency.

Scott, Schofield and Wilkerson said they plan to dive deeper into the need for mental health services in the upcoming weeks. They want to propose legislation that would not only address funding but accountability, transparency and inmate safety.

“We are definitely gonna have to do something to help out people and help the police departments and the sheriff’s departments, and that is trying to make sure that the General Assembly understands the need for more funding because that’s what it’s about – money,” Scott said. “They need more money and more funding so that they could try to help the people that need help, and we definitely need to get mental health facilities open that can serve these people that are having mental health issues.”

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Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel’s work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times. Daniel is a staff reporter for The Center Square.








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