Deaths of inmates at state jails would automatically be investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation under a bill filed Friday by state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs.
Wilkerson said the death of Kevil Wingo, an inmate at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, “started the conversation” that led to Friday’s bill.
Wingo, 36, died at the detention center Sept. 29, 2019, from a perforated ulcer. After Wingo died, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the detention center, opened two investigations, ultimately clearing its staff of wrongdoing.
Wingo’s family called for then-District Attorney Joyette Holmes to investigate his death or ask the GBI to investigate, saying security footage as well as investigators’ recordings of interviews with staff and inmates made it clear his death was the result of negligence.
The U.S. Department of Justice opened its own investigation into Wingo’s death, court records show; that investigation is ongoing.
Wilkerson’s bill, titled the “Inmate Mental Health Act,” would require county sheriffs to submit monthly reports to the GBI tallying the number of suicides, attempted suicides, deaths, serious injuries, assaults, escapes, sexual assaults and uses of force in their jails. Deaths would trigger an investigation by the GBI.
The bill would also require that jails have 24-hour access to a mental health professional and “automated electronic sensors to ensure accurate and timely cell checks.”
Inmates who are found to be mentally ill and who had been arrested for a nonviolent misdemeanor could, if ordered by a magistrate court, be transferred to a treatment center in the arresting agency’s jurisdiction, according to the bill.
Wilkerson said the bill would ensure jail inmates are being properly cared for.
“We have so many that are (incarcerated) that have mental health issues that probably shouldn’t be there, but there’s got to be a process for evaluating those and getting them where they need to be,” he said.
State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, said he decided to co-sponsor the bill, in part, due to the requirement that the GBI investigate any deaths.
“I think conditions in a lot of our jails have been less than stellar, to say the least,” Allen said. “It’s always good to have that independence.”