“One of the key things when I ran for office was the healthcare and treatment of detainees in my facility,” Owens told Project Q Atlanta. “They receive proper medical care and receive all the proper medications while they’re here.”
Owens beat out longtime Republican Sheriff Neil Warren in the November election. Owens, a Democrat who earned Georgia Equality’s endorsement, is the county’s first Black sheriff. He took office in January.
Some 51 people died while being detained at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center since 2004 under Warren’s watch, according to the AJC. That included nine deaths since December 2018. Warren refused to participate in a series of community town halls about conditions at the jail despite public outcry.
Owens’ vow to protect people detained in the jail includes making sure those living with HIV receive treatment. The jail currently houses 11 people with HIV and all are receiving their medications, according to an agency spokesperson.
“We’ll take care of any individual while they’re here and make sure that everything is given to them,” Owens said. “We do a whole workup for them to make sure to get them the right medication as needed.”
New detainees are also offered HIV tests during the jail’s intake process.
‘We do not tolerate any discrimination’
The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office does not have an LGBTQ liaison, but Owens said that could change.
“That’s something I’m definitely open to in our future plans and looking to see if we can have a representative going forward,” he said.
Jail employees receive general sensitivity training centered on treating “everyone with dignity and respect to make sure we stay in compliance,” according to Owens. But he could invite outside groups to make the training more LGBTQ-specific.
“We welcome organizations to come in and provide training to make sure we’re taking care of our detainees as best we can,” Owens said.
“We take the rights of all detainees very seriously in Cobb County. We do not tolerate any discrimination, threats or any behavior that could cause emotional or physical harm to anyone while they’re in our facility,” he added.
Owens is also creating a citizen accountability committee that will include LGBTQ members.
The new sheriff has also received attention for dumping the policies of his predecessor. Warren drew national headlines for his hardline immigration policies by enrolling the county in the 287(g) program in 2007, according to the Cobb County Courier. The controversial program is an agreement between the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement that gives deputies immigration enforcement powers.
Owens ended Cobb’s participation in the program as one of his first acts in office.
“We are and will continue to do things to make us the best sheriff’s office in the state if not across the nation,” he said. “We have an audit later this month to have an outside agency to make sure we’re doing everything right in meeting industry standards.”
Owens was one of three new county sheriffs elected in the metro Atlanta area in 2020. They include Fulton Sheriff Pat Labat and Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor. DeKalb Sheriff Melody Maddox took over after former Sheriff Jeffrey Mann stepped down in 2019. She was elected to her first full term last year.
Labat is creating his office’s first-ever LGBTQ liaison position and updating employee training to better address LGBTQ people held at the Fulton jail.
This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.