Prison system investigating another apparent inmate suicide

Just weeks after a year that saw a record number of inmate suicides in Georgia, another prisoner may have taken his own life, the Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

Cecil Williams, who was serving 10 years for a 2015 robbery in Lowndes County,  was found dead in his cell at Hays State Prison in Trion in northwest Georgia early Saturday.

The prison system said it was “conducting an investigation into the death, as standard procedure,” but the agency suspects it was a suicide.

Last month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported a sharp increase in the number of inmate suicides — 14 in 2017, which surpassed the national average. In 2016, nine Georgia inmates committed suicide.

Of the suicides last year, one inmate was on death row and at least three prisoners were being held in isolation, which some fear has contributed to the increase in the number of inmates killing themselves.

RELATED: Lawsuit says state condones inmate violence

Last month, the Southern Center for Human Rights brought a federal lawsuit challenging the Department of Corrections’ use of the Special Management Unit (SMU), aka the Tier III program, which is the most severe level of isolation.

In that case, inmate Timothy Gumm had lived for seven years in a 7-foot-by-13-foot cell with no outside air or sunlight and, for a long while, no contact with anyone other than a correctional officer who slid a food tray through a slot in the metal door. He was in solitary confinement for an attempted escape allegation that was dropped soon after he was put in the SMU, which is now at two prisons.

Other state prisons have Tier I and Tier II levels of isolation, which are less restrictive. Hays, where the most recent suspected suicide occurred, has Tier I and Tier II for inmates who are segregated for disciplinary reasons.

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