Weekly Update: June 22, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: June 22, 2021

Highlighted Stories

AMA : Require access to Rx for opioid-use disorder in prisons, jails
More than 90,000 people died from a drug overdose during a 12-month period ending in September—the highest number ever recorded in the U.S. Nearly 5% of those deaths were among people who had been released from prison or jail in the past month, according to research cited in a resolution presented at the June 2021 AMA Special Meeting. AMA Board of Trustees member Willie Underwood said, “We call on all jails, prisons, drug diversion and community re-entry programs to save lives by ensuring access to mental health and substance-use disorder treatment.” In addition, delegates amended a separate existing AMA policy to advocate that Congress repeal the “inmate exclusion” of the 1965 Social Security Act that bars the use of federal Medicaid matching funds from covering health care services in jails and prisons.

New York Times: ‘Disorder and Chaos’ in N.Y.C. Jails as Pandemic Recedes
Violence on Rikers Island is surging. Exhausted guards are working triple shifts. And staffing shortages have triggered lockdowns at some of the jail’s largest facilities. Correction officers and incarcerated people alike have described a tumultuous first half of the year: Six detainees have died, including at least two by suicide and one who passed away later at a hospital. Last month, a report by a federal monitor appointed to oversee the troubled jails described a system in a state of disorder, and expressed grave concern about the agency’s ability to change course.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Criminal Justice

AP: Vaccination rate for LA public safety workers below average
COVID-19 vaccination rates for police and firefighting personnel in Los Angeles and prison employees across California are significantly lower than the state’s average for other adults, raising concerns among medical ethicists and public safety leaders about whether unvaccinated first responders could become a threat to public health. Fewer than 30% of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department staff have received vaccine doses through employee clinics, and about 54% of state corrections employees are at least partially vaccinated.

COVID-19 Deaths in Corrections

Huffpost: 18 Died Of COVID-19 In Texas Prisons After Winning Parole
At least 18 people died of complications from COVID-19 in Texas prisons during the first 12 months of the pandemic after they had been approved for parole, a heartbreaking study has discovered. An additional two dozen inmates granted parole died behind bars largely due to chronic health issues unrelated to COVID-19. Prisoner rights advocates pleaded in vain with state officials beginning last year to immediately release those who had been approved for parole as the pandemic raged through prisons across America and killed hundreds in Texas lockups.

Legal Actions and Rulings

AP: Faster jail transfers to California mental hospitals upheld
California can’t lock up people for months in jails after they have been found mentally incompetent to stand trial, a state appeals court said. In a 3-0 ruling Tuesday, a panel of the First District Court of Appeal upheld a 2019 lower court order that gave the state a 28-day deadline for placing defendants in state mental hospitals or other treatment facilities after they were found incompetent to stand trial because of psychological or intellectual disabilities.

Albuquerque Journal: Inmate grievance process is in the legal spotlight
Eighteen people locked up in prisons around the state have filed a lawsuit alleging that the New Mexico Corrections Department’s inmate grievance process is unconstitutional, and results in cruel and unusual punishment. They are asking for changes to the process rather than compensation. The suit asks to suspend requirements that inmates exhaust administrative remedies through the process pending trial, and to declare that any breach in the processes, procedure and deadlines by the Corrections Department nullifies the responsibility of inmates to exhaust all options.

Washington Post: Judge gives D.C. 15 days to provide incarcerated students with their legally mandated special-education services
A federal judge ruled that D.C. must provide incarcerated students with their legally mandated special-education services, which the students allege the city’s school system has not delivered during the public health emergency. The ruling came two months after incarcerated students filed a class-action suit arguing that they were only given academic packets during the coronavirus pandemic, not the special-education services that they are supposed to receive.

West Hawaii Today: Five HCCC inmates granted early release following outbreak
Nearly a dozen inmates at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center have filed motions for early release a amid an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak at the Hilo jail. As of Friday, nearly 200 inmates at HCCC had tested positive for COVID-19 since May 24, and there were seven active cases among staff. Eleven inmates not currently infected with the coronavirus filed motions in Hilo Circuit Court to be released for public health reasons. Deputy Public Defender Patrick Munoz said the increasingly intolerable conditions at the jail — the current number of inmates exceeds the operational capacity of the jail by more than 100 — represent undue hardship for inmates.

VT Digger: Deal sets standards of care in lawsuit over denial of hepatitis C treatment for prisoners
Guidelines for how the state Department of Corrections will care for incarcerated individuals with hepatitis C are outlined in a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit brought over the lack of treatment for many prisoners. The 18-page document was filed last week in the case brought in May 2019 by the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit claimed that the denial of needed medication for incarcerated people with hepatitis C is a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment. The legal action alleged that treatment was offered only to incarcerated individuals whose hepatitis C met a certain standard of severity.

Barriers to Reentry

The Hill: New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Friday signed into law legislation that prevents landlords from requesting a person’s criminal history on housing applications. The governor signed the bill, called the “Fair Chance in Housing Act,” during a ceremony commemorating the first state and national observance of Juneteenth. Murphy during the signing ceremony praised the bill as just one way to address policies that have disproportionately impacted Black and minority populations in the state. Under the legislation, also known as the “ban the box” bill by housing advocates, landlords are only permitted to request information on a prospective tenant’s application if they are a registered sex offender, or were convicted for making meth in federally-assisted housing.

Virginia Mercury: She’s been out of prison for 11 years. In Virginia, she still has a lifetime employment ban from many professions.
Barrier crime statutes apply to a wide range of services, from addiction treatment programs to child care providers to congregate facilities, including mental hospitals and nursing homes. Many experts blame barrier crimes, at least in part, for the difficulty finding placements. Rebecca Vinroot, a social services director in James City County, still remembers a woman who was barred from fostering her own grandchild because of a decades-old felony assault charge. It happened when the woman was 18, after a fight with a friend.

Safety in Corrections

Prison Polity Initiative: State prisons are increasingly deadly places
The latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on mortality in state and federal prisons is a reminder that prisons are in fact “death-making institutions,” in the words of activist Mariame Kaba. The new data is from 2018, not 2020, thanks to ongoing delays in publication, and while it would be nice to see how COVID-19 may have impacted deaths (beyond the obvious), the report indicates that prisons are becoming increasingly dangerous. The new numbers show some of the same trends we’ve seen before – that thousands die in custody, largely from a major or unnamed illness – but also reveal that an increasing share of deaths are from discrete unnatural causes, like suicide, homicide, and drug and alcohol intoxication.

GBH News: Indian Affairs Promised To Reform Tribal Jails. We Found Death, Neglect And Disrepair
19 men and women who have died since 2016 in tribal detention centers overseen by the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), according to an investigation by NPR and the Mountain West News Bureau. Several of them died after correctional officers failed to provide proper and timely medical care, records show. Many of the victims had been arrested for minor infractions, such as petty theft or violating open-container laws, and were awaiting trial. In some cases, BIA officials have not released details of inmate deaths, despite repeated written requests. Federal officials have known about the mistreatment of inmates and other problems at the detention centers for nearly two decades. A 2004 federal investigation found widespread deaths, inmate abuse, attempted suicides, inhumane conditions and other issues in many of the more than 70 detention centers.

Staffing Shortages

Sacramento Bee: New contract for California prison doctors offers $10,000 bonuses to psychiatrists
California prison psychiatrists could claim $10,000 bonuses as a perk for seeing patients in person under a proposed contract their union negotiated with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration. Under the proposed agreement, bargaining unit employees would have their full salaries restored, and also receive a 5.06% pay raise, as soon as the contract is ratified. They would receive a further 2% pay increase on July 1, 2022. Even with the high pay the state has struggled to fill vacant positions. About 40% of the state’s psychiatry jobs, including those at prisons and mental institutions, were empty in 2018.

Oklahoma Watch: As State Prison Staffing Shortage Persists, Advocates Fear Violence
Oklahoma is facing a significant shortage of corrections officers, an ongoing problem advocates warn is causing widespread burnout among existing workers and is putting everyone who lives and works in state prisons at risk. The corrections department spent $19.4 million on overtime pay in fiscal year 2020, up 46% from fiscal year 2017. As of June 17, the agency had funding to fill 314 vacant correctional officer positions. Oklahoma is facing a significant shortage of corrections officers, an ongoing problem advocates warn is causing widespread burnout among existing workers and is putting everyone who lives and works in state prisons at risk. The corrections department spent $19.4 million on overtime pay in fiscal year 2020, up 46% from fiscal year 2017. As of June 17, the agency had funding to fill 314 vacant correctional officer positions.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health

The Journal Times: Should people having mental health crises go to jail? Inmate's death should be a 'wake-up call,' advocates say
Is a jail the right place for someone having mental health issues or suicidal ideations to be held? “Not in my opinion, it’s not the best place for someone,” said Adrienne Moore, regional attorney manager for the Racine Region of the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office. But jails and prisons are often filled with people who would likely benefit more from professional treatment instead of incarceration. The issue is coming to the forefront after Malcolm James, a 27-year-old who reportedly called police for help on May 28 after setting fire to his own apartment during an apparent mental health crisis, died in the Racine County Jail on Tuesday, the second of two deaths in the jail in five days.

Big Country: Shocking jail video shows corrections officer’s alleged role in inmate’s assault
Disturbing jail video that shows inmates attacking another prisoner also appears to show a corrections officer watching it happen. The incident occurred on March 22 at the St. Louis Justice Center inside a special wing for inmates with mental health challenges. That’s the same floor where a riot broke out a month prior and citizens could see inmates behind broken windows. According to a St. Louis Police report, corrections officer Demeria Thomas now stands charged with third-degree assault.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

WAVY: Mental health program at VB jail proves to be wildly successful in initial years
Years ago, Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle saw a mental health crisis growing among inmates at the city jail. To combat that, he created a program that meets the inmates where they are. It starts with a mental health screening process. Then, it provides counseling, mentors, and medication while locked up. Most importantly, when they get out, they’re are provided housing and connected with benefits like Medicaid so they can continue their treatment. In 2019, Stolle was finally able to get the state funding to bring the program to life. About $900,000 and 12 new staff positions later, it went into action and the results are staggering.

Spectrum News 1: Worcester County Jail Intake building to serve as model for state
A new intake building at the Worcester County Jail (MA) is helping inmates get better access to mental health and substance -use treatment. Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis said, "This building is going to allow us to assess everybody appropriately in an environment they should be assessed and and provide them the services they're going to need, and then get them out to the general population in a position where they can succeed." Governor Charlie Baker says it will play a big part in how the state addresses mental health in correctional facilities going forward.

Private Prison and Correctional Healthcare Vendors

Facing South: How Alabama organizers blocked Gov. Ivey's prison lease plan
A coalition of Alabama organizations called Communities Not Prisons is celebrating the collapse of a plan proposed by Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to increase the state's prison capacity by working with private prison companies to build three new facilities in the state and leasing them for 30 years. But the deal, in which CoreCivic would build two prisons and lease them to the state for 30 years, ultimately collapsed after Communities Not Prisons pressured two of the banks involved in the deal — Barclays of London and KeyBanc Capital Markets, a subsidiary of Cleveland-based KeyBank — to back out.

The Progressive: ICE Shut Down One Gruesome Detention Center—Then Transferred Immigrants to Another
On May 20, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced its plan to sever the contract between U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, or ICE, and the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. This came after years of documented human rights abuses at Irwin and calls for its closure. Unfortunately, even before DHS’s announcement, ICE had already been transferring individuals from Irwin to the Stewart Detention Center, a deadly privately owned prison located about 100 miles away, in Lumpkin, Georgia. The Stewart Detention Center, operated by private prison company CoreCivic, remains one of the largest and deadliest detention centers in the country. Eight men have died there in the last four years alone. And now, ICE has begun using Stewart to detain immigrant women.

WCSC: Family of man who died in Charleston County jail wants medical company held accountable
The family of a man who died in at the Charleston County jail wants private entities they believe contributed to his death to be held accountable, including the medical company contracted to work inside the jail. Sheriff Kristin Graziano admitted in a press conference that they are severely lacking mental health workers inside. “Right now, we have a contract with a medical provider, Wellpath, and they provide that service but it’s not enough. We have 750 people in there and we have one mental health professional and it’s just not enough, we need more.” The other private entity which the Sutherlands feel should be held accountable is Palmetto Behavioral Health. That is the local mental health clinic where Sutherland was arrested.

Missouri Independent: Missouri prison healthcare contract won by company accused of bid-rigging in Tennessee
The long-time contractor for medical services in Missouri’s prisons is protesting the state’s decision to award the business to a company that will charge more than lawmakers appropriated and is accused of bid-rigging to obtain a contract in Tennessee prisons. Centurion Health, a Virginia subsidiary of St. Louis-based managed care company Centene, beat out four other bidders – including current provider Corizon Health – for a contract awarded May 28. Corizon’s record as the state’s prison health care provider is mixed. It is the largest for-profit prison health care provider in the country, and has been sued numerous times by inmates in Missouri and other states where it operates.