Weekly Update: December 15, 2020

COCHS Weekly Update: December 15, 2020

The Future of Corrections

Texas LBJ School: Correcting Corrections: Lessons for Prisons and Jails in a Post-COVID World
Michele Deitch, a distinguished senior lecturer at the LBJ School and the Law School, writes: The COVID crisis has been a wake-up call like no other for our nation's prisons and jails. We look to our corrections system as part of our nation's public safety network, yet it seems to be failing terribly at that mission. Not only are incarcerated people—disproportionately elderly, Black, and with pre-existing medical conditions—getting infected and dying at unprecedented rates, but so are the people who work in these facilities. All of this harm was entirely predictable. Experts warned early on that corrections facilities would be petri dishes—essentially, cruise ships on steroids. We should not be incarcerating people who do not present a significant risk to our communities. We should impose shorter sentences and release them when they no longer pose risks to public safety. Above all, we need to invest in communities and make social services available to all so that our jails and prisons are not used as a substitute for a social safety net.

The Hill: The criminal justice system can be different in a Biden administration
In an op-ed, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and Ram Subramanian, managing director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, write: In January, the Biden-Harris administration and the 117th Congress will inherit a federal criminal justice system that has spent much of the last four years in reverse. Despite the overwhelming momentum for criminal justice reform in the streets and statehouses, the Trump White House went in the opposite direction, reinstating practices proven to worsen mass incarceration and abdicating its duty to investigate racially biased policing. The incoming administration and Congress must work together to reverse course. This is more than a clean-up job, though. The system needs to be turned inside out.

The Washington Post: Biden can end the mass incarceration of immigrants
In an op-ed, Madhuri Grewal a federal immigration policy counsel at the ACLU, writes: The administration of President-elect Joe Biden must do more than reverse the cruel immigration policies of the Trump administration. Over the past several decades, immigration detention — in essence, incarcerating those awaiting a determination of their immigration status or potential deportation — has become our nation’s newest system of mass incarceration for Black and Brown people.

COVID-19 Vaccines for The Incarcerated

The Washington Post: Incarcerated people are suffering from covid-19 more than most. They should be among the first vaccinated.
As states roll out their vaccine programs, they are typically prioritizing high-risk health-care workers, first responders, people with significant comorbidities, residents in congregate settings, and older adults in congregate and overcrowded settings, often roughly aligning with recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Incarcerated populations come in subsequent tiers of vaccination — or, in the draft plans of 13 states, they don’t show up at all.

The Washington Post: Covid-19 is spreading wildly in prisons like mine. We should get the vaccine early.
In an op-ed, Christopher Blackwell an incarcerated man at the Monroe Correctional Complex, in Washington State, wrote: I have spent eight months watching my fellow prisoners inside a state penitentiary in Washington suffer from covid-19. Now there is finally a vaccine on the horizon. Unfortunately, it may not get to many incarcerated people in time to save us. Because of social stigma, we’ve become an afterthought in many states (although a very few, including Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Carolina, have placed us ahead of the healthy general population).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Send first vaccines to Pennsylvania’s prisons
In an op-ed, Jordan M. Hyatt, an associate professor in the department of criminology and justice studies and the director of the Center for Public Policy at Drexel University, writes: Pennsylvania’s prisons and jails have been ravaged by COVID-19. Incarcerated people, and the staff who supervise them, were among the first to suffer in the pandemic. They should also be among the first to be vaccinated, not only for their benefit but to protect the broader community. From a public health perspective, prisons are unique. Behind their walls, it can be impossible to socially distance; almost everyone has a cellmate, eating is designed up to be communal, and bathrooms are shared by dozens. Security restrictions prevent using the type of alcohol-based disinfectants that have become the norm in the community. Older facilities are poorly ventilated. The high population density creates an ideal environment for the spread of disease.

Mass Live: Inmates and homeless people in shelters to be among first to receive doses of COVID vaccine in Massachusetts rollout
Massachusetts inmates and homeless people living in shelters among the first to be given doses of coronavirus vaccine as soon as immunizations become available, which officials anticipate will be mid-December. State officials detailed a three-phased rollout of the COVID vaccine in Massachusetts, giving priority doses to select vulnerable groups starting this month through February, according to a timeline released on Wednesday.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The New York Times: Stop the Coronavirus Outbreak at Brooklyn’s Federal Jail
The editorial board for the New York Times writes: Last week, at least 55 inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons data. Many months into this pandemic, the Federal Defenders of New York, a legal advocacy group, said officials at the jail aren’t following basic public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, to care for sick inmates or to protect those who are most vulnerable. After case counts at the jail held steady for months this fall, they are now rising.

The Baltimore Sun: Coronavirus cases double in a month among Maryland’s prison population; inmate death toll increases to 14
A 14th Maryland prisons inmate has died of COVID-19 as the total number of infections among state prisoners has more than doubled in a month, from 1,033 to 2,173, according to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Total cases among staff have also spiked, though not as dramatically, to 1,255. Two correctional officers have died to date. Last week, the number of inmate cases at Eastern Correctional Institution jumped by 60, according to corrections department statistics, for a total prisoner tally of 620. Cumulatively, more than a fifth of inmates there have tested positive.

Detroit Free Press: State reviewing possible COVID-19 reinfections after 115 prisoners test positive twice
The state health department is reviewing cases of possible COVID-19 reinfection among Michigan prisoners after more than 100 people have tested positive for a second time while incarcerated. The Michigan Department of Corrections says its staff has identified 115 prisoners — 114 men and one woman — who were diagnosed with COVID-19 once and tested positive again after 90 days or longer.

Corrections 1: Mo. prisons install air purifiers, disinfectant machines
As inmates continue to die of complications from COVID-19, Missouri prison officials announced new steps to control the spread of the deadly disease within the sprawling system. The machines, which officials say will destroy 99.4% of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 within 30 minutes, will also be placed in community supervision centers, the Transition Center in St. Louis and other state-owned facilities. The virus has claimed the lives of at least 36 inmates and four employees, according to the department. The tally comes after the state's prison system was relatively unscathed by virus-related deaths in the initial months of the pandemic.

VT Digger: Women’s prison in lockdown after staff member tests positive for Covid
A staff member at Vermont’s only women’s prison has tested positive for Covid-19, and the facility is now in lockdown while inmates and all other staff are tested. Advocates say the women weren’t promptly notified. Ashley Messier, executive director of the Women’s Justice & Freedom Initiative in Burlington, said the plan for responding to a Covid case at the prison isn’t as streamlined as it should be. “We’ve consistently asked corrections for more information sharing,” Messier said. “These are real human beings who were locked in cells and didn’t have access to meals on time or meds on time, or given any information about what was happening. That’s really stressful.”

COVID-19 Testing in Corrections

WJTV: MDOC announces COVID-19 retesting at South Mississippi prison
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced its joining forces with the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) to ramp up COVID-19 testing. MDOC administered Rapid Antigen tests to 505 inmates at South Mississippi Correctional Institution near Leakesville, of which 179 tested positive. Five days later, MSDH retested inmates in the same SMCI sector, identifying 139 more positive cases. Health officials say all 318 inmates were asymptomatic, with only one hospitalized for observation.

COVID-19 Preventive Release

Cal Matters: High-risk inmates aren’t prioritized in state’s early releases
In July, amid an epidemic of coronavirus cases, California’s corrections agency rolled out early-release programs touted as a solution to protect inmates at overcrowded prisons. But as of Nov. 25, only 62 inmates were released solely because of their medical conditions, according to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. That means several thousand people with serious medical conditions remain in California’s prisons as the number of COVID-19 cases among inmates and guards surges.

Voices of The Incarcerated and Their Families

FOX 16: Days after inmate dies due to COVID-19, family speaks out about prison conditions inside
Days after a MacDougall-Walker inmate passed away from COVID-19, one family is speaking out calling for more inmates to be released. Raquel Leiva reached out to FOX61 because she says she is worried about her husband. She says what goes on behind these bars is inhumane. Leiva says her husband, 48-year-old Peter Gonda, has seen some scary conditions at MacDougall-Walker’s medical isolation unit.

KXLY: Washington Dept. of Health not advising prison system on COVID, despite outbreaks
Despite outbreaks at several prisons statewide, including a massive outbreak at Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, the Washington Department of Health says it’s not currently advising the Department of Corrections on how to handle the problem. Nearly 800 inmates at Airway Heights alone have contracted COVID-19 in recent weeks. Inmates and their families have told 4 News Now of awful conditions, including a packed gym and inmates’ inability to shower.

Criminal Justice's Mental Health Initiatives

PEW Trust: Dallas Works to Avoid Sending People in Crisis to Emergency Rooms or Jails
In Texas, about 30% of people in local jails had at least one such illness in 2015, according to an analysis by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas, Austin. That year, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) partnered with the Dallas Police Department and city officials to use a data-driven approach to understand the number and location of 911 calls that identify mental health issues as the primary concern. In the Police Department’s South Central Patrol Division, RIGHT Care brings together a multidisciplinary team of paramedics, police officers, and social workers who collaborate to provide screening and support to divert those with mental health needs from jails or emergency rooms.

PEW Trust: How to Transform the Response to Those Having a Mental Health Crisis
In an interview Judge Steve Leifman explains how he created the Criminal Mental Health Project, which aims to place those with mental illnesses into treatment instead of jail: "Within three days of the arrest, we physically move individuals from jail to a crisis stabilization unit, where they can be held for up to two weeks. Once they begin to stabilize, we send a member of our team, trained in motivational techniques to try to persuade them to come into our voluntary program. If they agree, and most of them do, they’re transported directly to the courtroom, where one of our eight peer specialists is waiting for them with clothes, food, medication, and transportation to housing."

KSAT: Sheriff proposes mental health facility inside Bexar County Jail
To better address inmates with mental health issues, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar is proposing a plan to convert unused space in the jail’s annex into a mental health facility. Salazar wrote to the Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday about the proposal, seeking their approval and support for it. Under the proposal, the facility would be run independently from the sheriff’s office and would reduce the workload on deputies, many of who are already working multiple overtime shifts. Salazar said there is a “distressing log-jam of inmates” with mental health issues who are waiting to be transferred into state facilities that are currently full. Of the roughly 3,700 inmates in the jail, roughly 400 of them are in need of mental care.

Chicago Tribune: Harvey’s Ingalls Hospital in pilot program for treating mental health issues of nonviolent offenders
Ingalls Memorial Hospital has teamed up with the Illinois Department of Human Services to provide inpatient behavioral health care treatment to adults facing nonviolent misdemeanor charges, according to the hospital’s parent, University of Chicago Medicine. “We will treat the underlying mental health issue and work with them to restore their fitness, or bring them to a point where they are able to participate in their defense,” said Jeff Bergren, director of behavioral health services at Ingalls.

Opioid Crisis

KQED: Thousands of California Inmates Waiting for Access to Addiction Treatment
More than 6,000 California prison inmates are awaiting the doctor's appointments they need to receive addiction-treatment medication, according to a prisoner advocacy group. Delays in treatment for addiction can have fatal consequences. Recent research has shown that opioid-related overdoses are among the leading causes of death among people released from jails or prisons. That factor is particularly pertinent now as thousands of jail and prison inmates have been granted early release in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in crowded prisons. Attorneys with the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office say many of them have faced months of delays, including one man who had an appointment rescheduled three times over multiple months after being found unconscious in his cell from an apparent opioid overdose.

Conditions in Prison Lawsuit

NPR: Justice Department Sues Alabama Over Prison Conditions
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Alabama on Wednesday, saying unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the state's men's prisons violate the Constitution. The DOJ says Alabama's prison system fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, sexual abuse and excessive force at the hands of prison staff. The state's department of corrections reported nine men were killed by other prisoners in the state's prisons in the first six months of 2020, according to the complaint. The state corrections system has dealt with coronavirus outbreaks in several facilities, with 43 inmates dying from COVID-19 this year.

Sexual Abuse of Minors in Corrections

The Washington Post: Far too many minors suffer sexual abuse in youth detention centers. They must be protected.
The editorial board of the Washington Post writes: A disturbingly large number of youths locked up in juvenile detention centers across the country are sexually victimized, according to the Justice Department. A heartbreaking report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that states and localities are still doing too little to protect vulnerable youngsters who rely on the adults around them to provide safety and order. As long as this country imprisons minors, it is unacceptable that they suffer sexual abuse when they are in the care of the criminal justice system.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Providers

Mother Jones: How a Private Prison Company’s Defamation Suit Against One of Its Critics Backfired
CoreCivic has spent much of the past year waging a legal war against an activist who helped shine a spotlight on its role in the family separation crisis. In a federal defamation lawsuit filed in March, CoreCivic alleged that Morgan Simon, a member of the activist group Families Belong Together, had smeared the company when she called on big banks to stop financing private prison companies. The company’s legal strategy hasn’t worked so far. In a hearing on November 19, a federal judge in San Francisco appeared poised to keep CoreCivic’s case alive, until Simon’s lawyers reiterated an argument they had made in a earlier motion: Her statements about family separation were, in fact, true, because CoreCivic had housed migrants who had been separated from their kids.

Tennessean: Clergy members: Why Belmont University should sever ties to CoreCivic
In an op-ed, 53 clergy and lay church members, write: As Christian leaders, we share your belief that we are all created in the image of God and possess an inherent dignity and worth. In this season of unrest and uncertainty, we join our voices to echo President Bob Fisher’s call “for justice, change, reconciliation and peace.” It is in this spirit of peace and justice that we express our concerns. We are writing to ask Belmont University to act upon the values it professes and sever any ties with CoreCivic, its employees and the for-profit prison industry.

KARE: 'Unethical' record of Minnesota’s largest jail health care provider
MEnD Correctional Care, the company Dr. Leonard founded around the time of the board’s sanction, has grown so vastly in the last decade that it now provides health care to about a third of the state’s jails. On any given day, MEnD cares for an inmate population of 2,700, by far the largest provider of any in the state, according to KARE 11's analysis of court and contract records. A KARE 11 investigation reveals Dr. Leonard’s company now faces allegations in civil lawsuits of record falsification and inadequate care that led to preventable deaths.