COCHS' Weekly Update: May 05, 2020
Resource Update: COCHS Interactive Map of COVID-19 Statistics in Corrections
COCHS' interactive map includes five new local jurisdictions: Washington DC; Dallas, Texas; Middlesex County, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; and Orange County, California. In addition, there are now links to COVID-19 statistics from 47 states either from departments of corrections or departments of health. Newly listed states: Hawai'i, Maryland and West Virginia. There are data from Massachusetts; however, it is not from the Massachusetts Department of Correction nor the Department of Public Health but rather the ACLU of Massachusetts. There would seem to be some issues regarding the availability of this data in the Bay State. The ACLU of Massachusetts and a group representing the state’s public defenders has filed a motion of contempt against the Department of Correction, alleging the agency is failing to comply with an earlier decision by the Supreme Judicial Court requiring the release of accurate information on the number of COVID-19 tests and outcomes.
COVID-19 Cases Behind the Walls
Fox 19: 98 percent of confirmed virus cases at Ohio jail were asymptomatic, officials say
According to the Ohio Department of Health, there are 18,027 cases and 975 deaths due to COVID-19 in the state. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had announced that 4.1 million pieces of PPE had been sent to local EMA’s across the state. On Thursday, he spoke about PPE in corrections facilities. According to DeWine, the state has delivered more than 1.1 million of pieces of PPE that included 108,000 N95 masks, 256,000 gloves, 684,000 procedure masks, 10,000 provider gowns and 100,000 cloth masks for inmates.
The Hill: COVID-19 has exposed the interlocking risks of mass incarceration
The rapid spread of COVID-19 among the nation’s prison populations presents us with three interlocking, and to some degree, conflicting risks: Prison health, public health and public safety. Reducing prison population density is urgently needed to address the first two challenges while the third might be aggravated by prematurely releasing individuals who pose a risk to the community. The United States has more than 2 million people behind bars, the highest both in raw numbers and per capita in the world. This pattern of mass incarceration imposes enormous costs on federal and state governments that must house, feed and supervise the inmates. In a number of states, prisoners live in such cramped quarters that the federal and state courts have determined the conditions amount to a violation of 8th Amendment protections against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The Hill: 70 percent of federal inmates tested for coronavirus have COVID-19
About 2,700 inmates have been given tests, and 71 percent of those came back positive. Officials say they expect the overall number of cases to rise since testing so far has covered less than 2 percent of the 153,000 inmates in the federal system. While the low testing rate mirrors that of the general U.S. population, prisons and jails face unique challenges in imposing the physical distancing measures recommended by public health experts to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
ProPublica: Inside the Jail With One of the Country’s Largest Coronavirus Outbreaks
The Cook County Jail in Chicago is one of the largest in the country. Sprawling across 96 acres on the Southwest Side, the facility houses more than 4,000 people, most awaiting trial. Its cramped living conditions made it a perfect petri dish for COVID-19. In the Cook County Jail, nearly 500 detainees and more than 300 correctional officers have tested positive. Seven people have died: six inmates and one guard.
WXII: 70 inmates test positive for coronavirus at North Carolina women's prison
Seventy female offenders incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh have tested positive for COVID-19. The testing operation occurred at five dorms in one housing unit, testing all 161 offenders in the Canary Unit, which is a compound separate from the rest of the prison. The testing was conducted in consultation with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Wake County Health Department.
The Huffington Post: Positive Test Rates For COVID-19 Are As High As 87% At Some Michigan Prisons
Michigan’s aging prisoners serve the final years of life sentences at the state’s Lakeland Correctional Facility. The coronavirus has swept through Lakeland unabated, three inmates told HuffPost. At least 13 men have died and more than 50 have been hospitalized. Of 266 inmates that the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) tested for the virus in units that hold patients with other health issues, 208 came back positive. Overall, about 57% of Lakeland’s 1,400 prisoners have tested positive
5 New Cleveland: Inmates, staff worry about care as Marion prison becomes one of largest outbreaks in US
Inmates and staff at the Marion Correctional Institution are worried about care as the prison has become one of the nation’s largest hotspots for COVID-19, according to an article from Marion Star. According to the article, the prisoners and their family members say they do not have proper medical care. The union representing 349 guards and other employees at the prison is concerned that the staff who had been sent home after testing positive for COVID-19 went back to work as soon as three days of being symptom free.
ABC News: COVID-19 outbreak infecting over 500 prisoners may have come from staff: Medical director
A novel coronavirus outbreak that has sickened 583 inmates at a Tennessee prison could to have come from members of the staff, according to the facility's medical director. The alarming cluster of infections at the Bledsoe Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tennessee, accounts for 99% of the 588 total positive cases of coronavirus in all of Bledsoe County, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections and the state Department of Health.
COVID-19 Release of Justice Involved Populations
The New York Times: An Arrest at St. Patrick’s, a Struggle for Help, Then a Suicide
Three weeks after Marc Lamparello was released early from Rikers Island jail because of concerns over the coronavirus, he drove his parents’ van to the George Washington Bridge and tried to climb over an 11-foot fence intended to prevent suicides. The police stopped him. A week later, Mr. Lamparello tried again. This time he jumped from the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, killing himself exactly a year after he had made headlines for walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with two gasoline cans. Mr. Lamparello’s death seems to highlight the fraying nature of psychiatric care for some people with mental illness who are being released from city jails as part of an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
BMJ Opinion: Covid-19 and decarceration: healthcare needs to lead the charge
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a petition asking the Commonwealth’s highest court to take immediate action through decarceration to limit the spread of covid-19.  That Court’s decision ultimately afforded some relief for pre-trial detainees, and required the state Department of Correction and each sheriff to provide daily reports on the number of tests and positive results for all people in their custody, as well as for correctional officers and other staff. Healthcare professionals can play a vital role in these executive and judicial actions by explaining the science behind this pandemic to reporters, attorneys, lobbyists, politicians and judges alike.
Portland Tribune: Oregon jail population decreases in response to pandemic
In response to the public health concern posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Clackamas County Jail has reduced its inmate population by 67 percent, from 466 at the outset of the pandemic to just 152 currently. That info was published this week by civil rights advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon in a brief surveying how the state's county jails have adapted to stem the spread of novel coronavirus among their inmates. According to Sarah Radcliffe, the organization's managing attorney on mental health rights and author of the brief, Oregon's county jails averaged a 45-50% reduction in their populations.
VT Digger: Freed inmate with Covid-19 blames DOC for his illness
Michael Akey discovered he tested positive for Covid-19 one day after he was released from Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans earlier this month. He is blaming Department of Corrections officials for his exposure to the virus. Akey said prison officials were slow to take steps to prevent the virus from spreading in the facility, even after there was reason to believe inmates had been exposed.
COVID-19 Medicaid Expansion
13 KRCG: Medicaid expansion advocates deliver 346,000 signatures to Secretary of State's office
In a news release, Healthcare for Missouri said a group of Missouri doctors and Medicaid expansion advocates submitted more than twice as many signatures from Missourians as required to put the initiative directly before voters in November. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the campaign relied on a small group to turn in the nearly 300 boxes of petitions to the Secretary of State while maintaining social distancing.
COVID-19 Correctional Health Care Vendors
The Philadelphia Inquirer: The coronavirus crisis shines a light on the dark side of subcontracting
The coronavirus crisis has shined a light on how some workers are left out in the cold as more employers contract out services. District 1199c president Chris Woods slammed Mayor Jim Kenney for not extending hazard-pay benefits to his union’s members, who provide health care to inmates at Philadelphia jails. A city spokesperson said the union should look to Corizon Health for the money. The city’s response is typical in subcontracting relationships — and can be dangerous for workers employed by temp agencies.
COVID-19 Jail Closure
San Francisco Examiner: Fewer introduces legislation to speed up closure of Hall of Justice jail
A San Francisco supervisor is moving forward with plans to close the dilapidated seventh-floor jail above the Hall of Justice within six months. San Francisco has for years planned to close the seismically unsafe jail, but ran into problems reducing the jail population enough to shutter its doors without opening or renovating a new facility. That is until the coronavirus crisis prompted the average daily jail population to plummet by 35 percent since January, with 765 people behind bars in San Francisco custody as of Tuesday morning. The drop is in part attributable to Public Defender Manohar Raju and District Attorney Chesa Boudin agreeing to release certain inmates early, as well as overall declines in arrests and crime.
COVID-19 Justice Involved Population Response
The Appeal: As the Coronavirus Spreads, Prisoners Are Rising Up For Their Health
Since March 17, the date of the first known COVID-19-related prison hunger strike, there have been more than 75 protests and uprisings, according to tracking data at Perilous Chronicle, a digital media project documenting prisoner unrest since 2010 that two of us maintain. And the actual number is most likely much higher. Taken together, these actions have involved approximately 3,000 incarcerated people, with many more “outside” supporters participating in solidarity call-ins and demonstrations.
COVID-19 Racial Disparities
The Hill: Collecting and reporting ethnicity stats on COVID-19 matters for the health of everyone
In Michigan, where 14 percent of the population is black yet 33 percent of those with COVID-19 are black; to Louisiana, where 32 percent of the population is black yet 70 of the dead are black; to the city of Boston, where 25 percent of the population is black yet 40 percent of those infected are black — we see a horrifying but compelling pattern that, if investigated, could help us eventually stop the spread of the virus. While COVID-19 does not see color, it does see — and viciously attacks — people with underlying health conditions: lung, heart, and kidney disease, as well as cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Minority and underserved communities suffer and die in far higher numbers from these diseases. They always have. While the COVID-19 data on minorities are alarming, they are not shocking.
COVID-19 Legal Actions
The Sun Chronicle: Class action suit filed to free prisoners, including three in Norfolk jails, due to coronavirus
A class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of prisoners, including three in local state prisons, seeking their release due to the coronavirus pandemic. The suit filed by Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts seeks relief for 11 inmates, including two at the Pondville Correctional Center and one at MCI-Norfolk. Both are minimum security facilities in Norfolk. The suit is separate from the one before the state Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled certain pretrial inmates could be released but that it lacked the authority to release prisoners serving sentences.
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Inmate with hepatitis C, other health issues at prison with high COVID-19 incidence sues officials
An inmate with hepatitis C, asthma and other health issues, held in a prison where more than 1 in 10 offenders has COVID-19, is suing state officials, alleging lack of treatment and dangerously risky exposure to the pandemic. Howard Bowen Hankins Jr., 37, is an inmate at the Haynesville Correctional Center where, as of Tuesday, 109 of the 920 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19.