Following reports of an alleged lockdown in the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is raising further questions about conditions in the jail.
The civil liberties group sent the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office an open records request Tuesday seeking information about practices within the jail during a lockdown the group says has been ongoing since September.
The MDJ has received letters from over 15 inmates alleging to have been confined to their cells for nearly 24 hours a day with the exception of 15-minute showers offered sporadically. Inmates have also complained about canceled family visitations and lack of access to stamps, making communication with the outside world nearly impossible.
“These solitary confinement-like conditions, if true, potentially violate the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” the ACLU wrote in a statement.
The ACLU is asking for a raft of records, ranging from current policies and procedures regarding stun guns to inmate grievances, incident reports, employee communications and other logs.
“As noted by the U.S. Supreme Court, ‘prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution,’” Kosha Tucker, staff attorney of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office must provide meaningful transparency and rectify any unconstitutional or unlawful conditions in this situation.”
The lockdown coincided with a Sept. 23 incident when police said three inmates attacked deputies at the Cobb County jail, leaving them with injuries requiring transportation by ambulance and hospital treatment, according to multiple sources within the jail.
At least two inmates have died since the start of the lockdown, making at least seven deaths since November of 2018, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Bureau for Justice Statistics, which published its latest findings in a 2016 study using data from 2014, found that 1,053 inmates died in local jails in the U.S. The study found that 80% of U.S. jails reported zero deaths and 14% reported one death, though the data does not account for jail population size.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, one inmate was charged with assault, accused of breaking a deputy’s finger, and another inmate walked out of the jail while on work duty and was later recaptured in a nearby hotel.
Sheriff Neil Warren defended practices at the jail in a recent letter to the editor published in the MDJ on Wednesday. He said the jail sees over 25,000 inmates per year with an average population of around 2,100 inmates. Warren said the vast majority of these inmates will be seen by a physician, mid-level care provider or mental health personnel during their stay.
“Health care in the jail is a massive undertaking,” Warren wrote. “Within any segment of the population, you will encounter people with preexisting health conditions. Often those who come through our doors have spent the majority of their lifetime making decisions that adversely impact their physical well-being and have also avoided physician contact for years due to these decisions and lifestyle choices.”
Warren has also denied allegations that the lockdown is due to understaffing at the jail. He said both his department and the county police have many vacant positions, but he said the jail is appropriately and safely staffed and predicted increased incentives approved by the county Board of Commissioners will help attract new hires.
The ACLU has requested a response within three business days of the office’s receipt of the Nov. 19 letter.
The sheriff’s department was not immediately available for comment.