The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia on Tuesday urged the sheriff’s office of Cobb County, Georgia to conduct a full investigation into the water contamination that allegedly left the jail’s inmates without water to drink or shower for multiple days.
According to the ACLU’s letter, on Saturday, inmates reported that water smelled or tasted like fuel or gas, and that no other water was made available to them for drinking or showering. The ACLU claims that failure to provide potable water violates basic human and constitutional rights of the inmates:
We are writing to learn whether the water at the Detention Center was or remains contaminated with unsafe and potentially lethal toxins. To the extent there is no supply of potable water available, people detained in your custody are at a substantial risk of serious harm. The Sheriff’s Office has the responsibility to provide safe and humane conditions for the people in its custody. Failure to do so not only violates incarcerated people’s basic human rights; it also potentially violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The letter sent by the ACLU to the jail also urged full medical examinations of all inmates that could have ingested or been exposed to toxins during the period at which the water may not have been potable. It was alleged that family members called the detention center and 9-1-1 repeatedly in order to prompt the movement of the impacted individuals to another part of the jail.
The sheriff’s office has publicly responded. Deputy Glenn Daniel issued a statement regarding steps being taken to ensure the safety of the water: “As a precaution, the Cobb County Water System has been asked to conduct analysis of water in the now vacant housing area. The test is expected to be conducted on Tuesday, January 21st. Sheriff [Neil] Warren has instructed that inmates will not be returned to the housing area pending water quality test results.”
Warren also issued a statement commending the jail staff and claiming that the ACLU was “spinning a narrative of crisis and conflict.” He stated that “having the ACLU trying to cause unwarranted alarm within our community and inmates does more harm than good.”
This is the second time in the last few months that the Cobb County Jail has come under scrutiny by the ACLU of Georgia. In November, the ACLU sent an open records request to better understand the conditions at the detention center. They requested log books, sign in sheets, internal affairs investigation documents and more. The sheriff’s office failed to turn over some of the documents in their initial response.
The open records request was prompted by a report that an unusual number of inmate deaths had occurred in addition to harsh detainment practices spanning several months. These practices included a lockdown that kept inmates in solitary confinement-like conditions from September 27 to October 25, a denial of visiting time or calls with family members, and a prohibition on the purchase of sanitary products and snacks. According to the ACLU, “[t]hese solitary confinement-like conditions, if true, potentially violate the U.S. Constitution and federal law. Mail and visitation are also constitutionally protected rights for people who are incarcerated.”
There were additionally a total of seven inmate deaths over the span of 12 months prompting this request. Many of the deaths are still considered to be open investigations. The ACLU organized a town hall in December with Cobb County Southern Christian Leadership Conference, La Gente de Cobb and the Cobb County NAACP, during which hundreds of residents participated in discussing the conditions at the jail.