(The Center Square) – A group of Democratic lawmakers in Georgia wants more government funding for local prisons to improve mental health services and accountability.

Representative Sandra Scott, D-Rex; Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta; and David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, held the first of a series of town hall meetings on Monday to discuss prison reform.

Lawmakers said many voters have complained of a lack of control, which has resulted in neglect and deaths in county jails.

“This is a very important issue not only because it is a human rights issue, but also because these are the people we know deserve better and fairer treatment,” Schofield said. “We will do everything in our power to scrutinize legislation and control of mental health accountability to ensure that needs are met.”

Legislators heard statements Monday from law enforcement officials, lawyers and family members of people who died in county jails.

Tynesha Tilson said the naked, lifeless body of her 22-year-old son Shali Tilson was found in a Rockdale County prison cell after being arrested for misconduct. Shali Tilson had a mental crisis and died of severe dehydration despite being on suicide watch, his mother said. He was beaten six times and lost £ 20 in the nine days he was in jail for a $ 6,000 bond, she said.

“My son was tortured in this Rockdale County prison,” said Tynesha Tilson. “For someone who dies of severe dehydration in a suicide cell that requires 15-minute checkups, that never happened.”

Tynesha Tilson said she saw video footage of her son knocking on the door in the last minutes of his life in 2018, asking for help. The county has not yet answered any questions about his death, she said.

Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens said the Cobb County prison has had 10 deaths in the past year and a half. He believes the solution to the problem in his prison is to increase the staff, upgrade equipment, and improve facilities.

“We are doing everything we can to do what is right, to be good stewards of the county and to ensure that everyone who enters this facility is treated with dignity and respect,” Owens said.

Owens said before he became sheriff the office completed its own death investigations. Owens is now recruiting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for assistance to ensure greater transparency.

Scott, Schofield, and Wilkerson said they plan to delve deeper into the need for mental health services in the coming weeks. They want to propose laws that affect not only funding, but also the accountability, transparency and safety of inmates.

“We’re definitely going to have to do something to help the people and help the law enforcement and sheriff’s departments, and that’s trying to make sure the General Assembly understands the need for more funding, because that’s what it’s about – money,” Scott said said. “They need more money and more money to try to help the people who need help, and we definitely need to open mental health facilities that can help these people with mental health problems.”