Weekly Update: May 25, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: May 25, 2021

Highlighted Stories

AMA: Why denying addiction treatment in jails, prisons is inhumane
“Jails have become a revolving door for individuals struggling with mental health and substance-use disorders” (SUDs), who are caught in a continuing cycle of “arrests, incarceration and release to the community,” according to the National Sheriffs Association guidebook to jail-based medication-assisted treatment. The sheriffs’ document was referenced by Elyse Powell, PhD, the North Carolina Department of Health and Services’ state opioid epidemic response coordinatorPowell noted that law-enforcement officials who have seen the benefits of medication-assisted treatment—now referred to as medications for opioid-use disorder (MOUD)—are some of the most persuasive voices when it comes to initiating such programs for those who are “justice-involved,” the term used to describe people who have interactions with courts, jails and prisons.

The Nevada Independent: $2 million price tag divides correctional officials and lawmakers over bill enrolling released prisoners in Medicaid
Lawmakers and correctional officials ended up at odds last week over a fiscal note attached to a measure aimed at enrolling soon-to-be released prisoners in the state Medicaid program. AB358, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas), would in theory help alleviate medical expenses that the Nevada Department of Corrections currently covers with general fund dollars by signing up eligible members for Medicaid before release. NDOC Statewide Reentry Administrator Elizabeth Dixon-Coleman said that the state releases about 6,000 prison inmates annually, and that the state prison system needed the money to pay for increased personnel, operating systems and equipment expenses necessary to establish a program that will process roughly 460 Medicaid applications a month.

The Crime Report: How Data-Based Policies Can Help the Formerly Incarcerated Win a ‘Second Chance’
In Tennessee, the governor convened the state’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force to develop policies aimed at reducing recidivism and improving public safety. Kentucky has also taken major strides towards de-felonization, introducing two new laws to reduce the number of people convicted of felonies. And Colorado is supporting prisoner reentry into society with a “Ban the Box” provision that removes the question, “Have you ever been convicted by a court?” from applications.

NPR: Congress Wants To Set Up One-Stop Shops To Help Ex-Inmates Stay Out Of Prison
In an effort to reduce crime among formerly incarcerated individuals, a bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers are joining forces to introduce legislation to create new resource centers to help ex-prisoners get a new start. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas; and House Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., are launching the proposal to offer new access to housing, medical care, job searches and legal services. Bass and Reschenthaler introduced the One Stop Shop Community Reentry Program Act during the previous legislative session, where it was passed by the House. However, it failed to get traction in the Senate, where it now has a new set of bipartisan sponsors to introduce it for the first time.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

New York Times: Vaccinations are lagging at many U.S. prisons, where major virus outbreaks have been common.
Vaccinations in many American prisons, jails and detention centers are lagging far behind the United States as a whole, prompting public health officials to worry that these settings will remain fertile ground for frequent, fast-spreading coronavirus outbreaks for a long time to come. Over the course of the pandemic, prison inmates have been more than three times as likely as other Americans to become infected with the virus.

News 4 Jax: Florida state prisons slowly vaccinating inmates, but how many is unclear
Officials across Florida have slowly started vaccinating people incarcerated inside local jails since April. But much less is known about the vaccination effort inside Florida state prisons. On April 7, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said it expected to offer the vaccine to all staff and people housed in state prisons, including private facilities, within two weeks. But, despite multiple requests since April, the Department of Corrections has yet to report how many have received a vaccine.

Honolulu Civil Beat: If You Want To Work In A Prison, Get Vaccinated
Most Hawaii prison guard recruits opted not to get the vaccine. More than half got sick during training. Some behavior makes absolutely no sense, such as Hawaii’s correctional officer recruits refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations. And of those who refused vaccination, 20 caught COVID-19 during their training. The training program had to be halted for the sick recruits when they were quarantined. One was hospitalized.

Santa Barbara Independent: Doctor ‘Extremely Concerned’ About Low Vaccination Rate Among Lompoc Prisoners
A second court-ordered medical inspection of the Lompoc prison complex - where a major COVID-19 outbreak last spring killed at least four inmates and sickened more than 1,000 - has revealed an alarmingly low vaccination acceptance rate among the population. Dr. Homer Venters, the epidemiologist who performed the inspection as part of a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), said he was “extremely concerned” about the roughly 50 percent rate, which he attributed to prison staff neglecting to address inmates’ “very valid and predictable concerns” about the effects the vaccine might have on their underlying health conditions.

COVID-19 Testing in Corrections

inewsource: COVID-19 testing waiver at Donovan prison called deceptive, inappropriate
Medical staff at Donovan state prison in San Diego have been asking inmates who decline COVID-19 testing to waive the prison of any liability for their illness or death — a move a medical expert viewed as unethical and a law professor said may be unconstitutional. A copy of the waiver form, obtained by inewsource, describes the risks of refusing COVID-19 testing and says the corrections department is “free of any responsibility” for complications resulting from the virus. Inmates who decline testing can sign their name alongside the name of a witness.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Nation: How New York State Let Covid-19 Run Rampant in Prisons
Few New Yorkers have been left as unprotected against the virus as the tens of thousands of people caught within its prison system. As Covid-19 surged across the state throughout the last year, just around 10 percent of the prison population was granted early release. The other 90 percent—more than 32,000 people—have remained incarcerated, packed in facilities where social distancing is effectively impossible and health conditions are extremely poor.

Tampa Bay Times: Pasco deputies entered jail with coronavirus, disobeyed mask rules, reports show
Pasco County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Schaeffer showed up to work at the county jail on Sept. 18 despite feeling under the weather. Schaeffer worked a 12-hour shift despite still feeling unwell and having a temperature of more than 100 degrees. The day after his shift, he tested positive for COVID-19, according to reports from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. The deputy would be suspended for five days without pay when the investigation revealed he exposed others to the highly contagious coronavirus. But he wasn’t the only Sheriff’s Office employee to expose their co-workers, inmates and others throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 Lockdown

HeraldNet: As virus wanes, Monroe prisoners still isolated by new rules
Until 2020, prisoners in Monroe were allowed three seven-hour visits per week with friends or family from the outside. The Washington State DOC reinstated in-person visits on Mother’s Day — with new rules. Prisoners in Monroe are now allowed a single one-hour, no-contact visit with no more than two people per month. Guards have required prisoners to stay behind a see-through barrier to ensure no contact with outsiders. Instead of playing cards or holding hands with loved ones, prisoners are walled off during visits.

COVID-19 Medical Parole

WBUR: Attorneys Raise Questions About Medical Parole After 2 People Returned To Prison
Nelson Cruz Rodriguez was granted medical parole back in January — he didn't find out right away. Rodriguez was unconscious and intubated while being treated for COVID-19. But in April, Rodriguez was arrested without warning and sent back to prison. The reason for the arrest? His health had improved. The law says medical parole is intended for those who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated, and do not pose a public safety risk. A parole board spokesman has said the law is clear that a person can be returned to custody if they have recovered from the condition that made them eligible for medical parole.

Commonwealth: SJC to correction officials: Act faster on medical parole
The Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court made two rulings that will require the Department of Correction to act more quickly on medical parole cases under certain circumstances. The court invalidated a regulation that made it harder for prisoners to reapply for medical parole if their health worsened. It also laid out clearer guidelines for how long the Department of Correction can take to release someone after their medical parole petition is approved. The court decisions – which stemmed from three separate cases – are the latest salvo in a long-standing debate over whether the state is properly implementing the 2018 medical parole law. Advocates for prisoners have said the DOC has consistently worked to frustrate the Legislature’s intention

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

The Ledger: Man on suicide watch beaten into coma at Polk County Jail and later dies
On Friday afternoon, Shaun Seaman’s family crowded into his Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center room and said goodbye to the 39-year-old, who was in a coma. Marc Seaman said jail officials told him that someone had repeatedly kicked his son, who had an IQ of 67 and was mentally handicapped. His parents said he was born emotionally, educationally and mentally disabled.

Washington Post: Inmate kills himself in jail, Alexandria officials say
A man with psychiatric issues awaiting sentencing for federal charges of armed bank robbery and carjacking killed himself in the Alexandria jail, authorities said Wednesday. Christopher Lapp, 62, was deemed incompetent for trial due to mental illness in early 2020, according to court filings. For the next year, he received psychotropic medication at Butner federal prison in North Carolina. Lapp was then brought to the Alexandria jail, where his medication was discontinued “after a staff clinician opined Lapp was not mentally ill.”

The Hill: You shouldn't be able to breathe!' Shocking video of police crushing man who died in jail
A white man in jail died similarly to George Floyd – by the police restraining his breathing. On May 6 of last year, seven officers pinned William Jennette, 48, facedown, legs and arms tied, to the ground at a Tennessee jail, pressing their knees on his back. It was fatal. The medical examiner said he had died from asphyxiation and the interaction of drugs, including methamphetamine. His death was ruled a homicide.

New York Times: 2 South Carolina Deputies Are Fired for Their Role in Death of Black Man in Jail
Two sheriff’s deputies in South Carolina were fired on Monday for their role in the death of a Black man on whom they used pepper spray and Tasers after he was taken to jail from a mental health facility in January. The actions of the deputies while they tried to remove the man from a jail cell — shown in graphic video footage that was released last week by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office — touched off protests and prompted calls for changes to how people experiencing mental illness are treated while in custody.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Fort Worth: Mental Health Jail Diversion Center Expected to Open by October
The development of an alternative to putting people with mental health diagnoses behind bars has been on the docket for many years, but it appears as if such a facility is finally coming to fruition. During the Commissioners Court meeting on May 11, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said he would like to see a mental health jail diversion center open by the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. The jail diversion program would enable individuals with mental health needs who have committed non-violent, low-level crimes to receive services for psychiatric needs, homelessness, medication management, health issues, and other necessary assistance.

The Christian Science Monitor: From LA jail, two inmates pioneer care for mentally ill peers
It’s a homegrown approach, developed by the on-site psychiatric technician, Sarah Tong, and taken to a new level by two “merit master” inmates from the general jail population, Craigen Armstrong and Adrian Berumen. With the support of Ms. Tong and others, they created a role as mental health assistants – living among those who are most severely ill, encouraging them to take medication.


Washington Post: ICE to stop detaining immigrants at two county jails under federal investigation
The Biden administration has decided to stop detaining immigrants in a pair of county jails facing federal probes in Georgia and Massachusetts, calling the decision an “important first step” in a broader review of the nation’s sprawling network of immigration jails. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to immediately terminate its contract with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office.

Private Prisons

Alabama Political Reporter: Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking to block Gov. Kay Ivey’s prison construction plan
A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to have new prisons built and leased to the state. The suit also argued that the state Legislature must approve such a plan, which the plaintiffs say could cost the state as much as $3.6 billion and was negotiated without consulting the Legislature. Ivey’s plan calls for the state to lease and operate two prisons, to be built and maintained by the private prison company CoreCivic.