DeKalb County sheriff considers adding LGBTQ liaison

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DeKalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox said she takes the treatment of LGBTQ employees and people detained at the county jail seriously. For her, it’s personal.

“My niece, who is 17 years old, is openly gay and she’s been having a problem with her parents with the fact that she’s open,” Maddox told Project Q Atlanta. “But it’s okay, she knows that her auntie is here if she needs her. She’s loved no different.”

Maddox became the county’s first female sheriff in 2019 when she replaced Sheriff Jeffrey Mann, who resigned. She was elected to her first full term in November.

Georgia Equality endorsed Maddox and eventual Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens during their campaigns last year. The statewide LGBTQ equality organization backed them for their positions on “the treatment of transgender detainees and more broadly looking at issues around LGBTQ sensitivity training for the staff, how they’re going to handle intimate partner violence situations, and a history or openness of working with the LGBTQ community in the future,” according to Executive Director Jeff Graham.

In DeKalb, the sheriff’s office houses trans people in separate quarters away from others at the county jail on Memorial Drive, according to Maddox. It’s for their safety, she added.

Jail employees receive general cultural diversity training and crisis intervention training centered on “treat[ing] everyone with dignity and respect,” Maddox said. Her office also has LGBTQ-specific training to meet requirements of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003.

“We do [PREA] webinars here which highlight the concerns and sensitivities of the LGBTQ community,” she said.

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office does not have an LGBTQ liaison, but Maddox is open to appointing one.

“It’s not off the table, it’s just that we haven’t really had a need for it just yet,” she said. “We want everybody to feel inclusive at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.”

The jail offers HIV tests to new detainees when they first arrive at the facility. As of March 3, there were 32 inmates at the jail with HIV, according to spokesperson Cynthia Williams. Some 72 percent received HIV medication, she added.

Those who are not receiving medication have either chosen not to do so or their cases are still awaiting medical verification because they have only very recently been detained,” Williams said.

Maddox said addressing the needs of people living with HIV in the jail is part of the facility’s approach to tackling sexually transmitted diseases.

“Our medical team is very good at making sure they administer services not just for HIV but any other communicable disease they may have,” Maddox added.

The sheriff’s office also has a longstanding partnership with AID Atlanta so people living with HIV are connected to health services once they leave the jail.

“When they’re released from the jail, [AID Atlanta] assists with providing the inmates with HIV resources as well as referrals,” Maddox said.

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat vowed to create his office’s first-ever LGBTQ liaison and update employee training to better address LGBTQ people held at the Fulton jail. Owens is also considering adding an LGBTQ liaison at the Cobb sheriff’s office. Labat, Owens and Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor all replaced longtime incumbents when they took office earlier this year.

This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.

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