Cobb sheriff aims to reduce inmate deaths with new technology

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

‘I don’t want one death. One death is too many.’

Keep people alive. That’s the message Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens wants to send across his agency by using new devices at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center.

Owens introduced what he called “groundbreaking” technology on Tuesday that will help monitor and track inmates at the detention center in hopes of preventing deaths. There were three deaths at the Cobb County Detention Center in May, including two suicides and one still under investigation.

“This technology we are going to introduce today is going to help us better monitor our inmate population,” Owens said.

The technology is a real time location device, TSI Prism, made and sold by Alabama-based company Black Creek Integrated Systems. The devices allow for the tracking and monitoring of inmates, who wear them on their wrists.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Black Creek President Isaac Newton said the company has been working with law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities for close to 40 years. Cobb County will be the first agency to use this new equipment.

“The sheriff should be commended for his forward thinking views on this,” Newton said.

Initially, the device will be placed on “at-risk” inmates at the facility, with all inmates expected to receive and wear one soon. Newton said the technology is a way to mitigate the shortages of police officers law enforcement agencies are experiencing and reduce the number of deaths in jails.

“It’s going to have a significant impact on the health of the inmate population, which is what this is all about,” he said.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

The detention center can house more than 3,000 inmates. The sheriff’s office will use the devices on a trial basis and will move forward with a purchase once the county is satisfied with the technology’s performance.

“Technology is a way for us to be successful in the future. It helps us save taxpayers money, be more efficient, provide the best possible health and mental health care that we can to citizens of Cobb County,” Owens said.

Nicole Smith, 42, died in an Atlanta hospital on May 18 after she was found unresponsive in her jail cell. According to the sheriff’s office, Smith was placed on suicide check and was getting mental health treatment as part of a suicide prevention program at the detention center.

She attempted to take her life during the round-the-clock wellness checks sheriff’s office staffers conduct every 15 minutes, deputies said. Officers tried to save her before she was taken to the hospital. Smith was the third inmate to die while in custody since May 3. There were three inmate deaths in 2021 in Cobb County.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

As jail populations across the country has increased, the number of in-custody deaths have as well. The latest report released by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2021 about mortality in local jails found a total of 1,120 inmates died in 2018, an increase of nearly 2% from 2017 and the highest number of inmate deaths since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began tracking mortality data in 2000.

Suicides remain the leading cause of death in local jails, according to the report, accounting for approximately 30% of all deaths. Owens said it’s hard to prevent suicides in detention centers and hopes this new technology can help. The introduction of the device was not in direct response to the recent in-custody deaths but has been in the works for some time, Owens said.

“When people are determined to hurt themselves, there is not a whole lot we can do sometimes. We try to do everything we possibly can to prevent that,” Owens said. “We’ve had six unfortunate incidents of deaths in our facilities and I’m not proud of that, but if you look around in metro Atlanta, we are not much different than anyone else.”

Last fall, the sheriff’s office launched a 24-hour mental health program to provide services for detainees at the detention center, becoming a first in Georgia to do so.

“We are not mental health professionals. That is not what we do, we are a correction (facility) and we get a hold of them until they get their day in court. I’m not here to perform mental health services,” Owens said. “I don’t want one death. One death is too many.”