Weekly Update: April 4, 2023

COCHS Weekly Update: April 04, 2023

Highlighted Stories

NY Times: ‘Thousands of Dollars for Something I Didn’t Do’
Because of a bad facial recognition match and other hidden technology, Randal Reid spent nearly a week in jail, falsely accused of stealing purses in a state he said he had never even visited. A person with direct knowledge of the investigation confirmed to The New York Times that facial recognition technology had been used to identify Mr. Reid. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (LA) has a contract with one facial recognition vendor: Clearview AI, which it pays $25,000 a year. The public information office for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment about the use of Clearview AI. For Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a racial justice advocacy group, the technology exacerbates the problems of what he called “racist policing.”

Pew: Firing Squads Could Return as States Debate the Death Penalty
Idaho wants to bring back the firing squad. The state House last week approved a bill that would allow the execution method as an alternative to lethal injections. Idaho has had trouble getting the drugs needed to kill inmates on its death row. Lawmakers in other Republican-led states likewise want to expand or reinstate the death penalty, for a mixture of practical and political reasons.

Representative Paul D. Tonko: Tonko, Turner, Rutherford, Trone, Baldwin & Braun Introduce Reentry Act
Representatives Paul D. Tonko (D-NY), Mike Turner (R-OH), John Rutherford (R-FL), and David Trone (D-MD) today introduced the Reentry Act, bipartisan legislation that empowers states to restore access to healthcare, including addiction and mental health treatment, through Medicaid for incarcerated individuals up to 30 days before their release. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Mike Braun (R-IN) are introducing companion legislation in the Senate.

Wisconsin Public Radio: Lawmakers renew push to close health care gap for people who just got out of prison
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, joined her Republican colleague Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana in re-introducing the Medicaid Re-Entry Act this week. It's paired with a U.S. House Bill that also has bipartisan sponsors. Last session, lawmakers narrowly defeated a version of the Medicaid Reentry Act, which was tucked into the Build Back Better Act.

Georgetown Public Policy Review: Health, Incarceration, and the Intersection of Medicaid Policy with Khalil Cumberbatch and Vikki Wachino
GPPR Editor Bryna Antonia Cortes (MPM ’23) spoke with Khalil Cumberbatch, national leader and advocate on criminal justice policy, and Vikki Wachino, health care policy champion and former deputy administrator at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), on the convening of their multi-sector coalition, the Health and Reentry Project (HARP); forthcoming CMS approval for states seeking to offer pre-release services; and the intersection of health and criminal justice systems.


US News & World Report: From Prison to Preterm Birth
A new study suggests women living in neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration can face increased risk of adverse birth outcomes – a finding researchers say highlights the need for focused investment in communities substantially impacted by the criminal justice system. Researchers found that “worse birth outcomes were more strongly associated with high incarceration rates,” according to the study. Specifically, areas with the highest incarceration rates – reaching a median of 698 people incarcerated per 100,000 – had a 13% greater rate of preterm birth.

Unicameral Update: Doula services considered for incarcerated women, juvenile offenders
The Judiciary Committee heard testimony March 22 on a bill that would create a pilot program to offer doula services for pregnant incarcerated individuals and juvenile offenders. LB581, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would establish the program to provide access to doula services during pregnancy and postpartum care at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women and the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center.

Solitary Confinement

NY Times: How Long Without Outdoor Exercise Is Too Long for a Prisoner in Solitary?
Michael Johnson, a prisoner in Illinois, suffered from what the corrections system acknowledged was profound mental illness. That made him hard to handle, and prison officials responded by putting him in solitary confinement. Total isolation, in a windowless cell, made things worse. The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear a case from Texas on a large question: whether prolonged solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, which is banned under the Eighth Amendment.


Marshall Project: ‘Prison Within a Prison’: New Mandate Offers Lifeline for Deaf People in Custody
During the pandemic, phone calls became an even more vital lifeline for people in prison. But many deaf incarcerated people were still cut off from meaningful communication, as few had access to the technology needed to sign with family at home. In a major step in the fight over accommodations for deaf people behind bars, the Federal Communications Commission will soon require all prison phone companies to provide video communication services for deaf and hard of hearing prisoners. The FCC order covers multiple kinds of communication technology. Point-to-point videophone calls, a specific system for deaf users, allow two signing people to communicate directly.

Geriatric Prisoners

NY Times: Here’s What Happens as the Era of Mass Incarceration Winds Down
The entwined crack and crime epidemics that unfolded during the 1980s and 1990s and the various attempts to curb them left a catalog of destabilizing legacies, the most recent chapter of which is playing out in a national crisis around aging in the penal system. Decades of mass incarceration have resulted in a prison population growing older and more enfeebled, and has introduced the challenge of reintegrating people coming out after long sentences, often with few skills, into a society that technology has made alienatingly unfamiliar.

Now This (You Tube): The Harsh Reality of Aging In Prison
‘Prisons were never designed to be nursing homes’ — Approx $16 billion of taxpayer money is spent each year keeping individuals 50 years and older in prisons that put their health at risk.


Hepatitis C
Filter: Ten Key Recommendations to Expand Hepatitis C Care in Prisons
Hepatitis C rates among people in prisons are among the highest in the world: up to 10-to-25 times higher than in the general population. Safe oral medications, taken for two or three months, cure over 95 percent of people treated. People in prison often face the greatest obstacles to accessing this lifesaving treatment. Barriers include lack of policies for testing and treatment, lack of financing for HCV care in prisons, low awareness of effective HCV testing and treatment.

POZ: How Many People in U.S. Prisons Are Living With HIV?
At the end of 2021, fewer people in state and federal prisons were living with HIV than the previous year. The decline, of about 2%, represents the 23rd straight year that the number has decreased. The 2021 decrease in prisoners living with HIV followed the largest 1-year decline (down 15% between 2019 and 2020, largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic) since data collection began in 1991.

CDC: Tuberculosis Outbreak in a State Prison System — Washington, 2021–2022
During 2014–2020, no tuberculosis (TB) cases were reported within the Washington state prison system. However, during July 2021–June 2022, 25 TB cases were reported among persons incarcerated or formerly incarcerated in two Washington state prisons. Phylogenetic analyses of whole genome sequencing data indicated that Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates from all 11 patients with culture-confirmed TB were closely related, suggesting that these cases represented a single outbreak.

State Roundup

Equal Justice Initiative: Alabama to Spend Nearly $1 Billion for a Single Prison
Alabama state officials voted last week to increase the amount the state will pay a private company to build a new prison in Elmore County to nearly $1 billion. The resolution was passed by the Alabama Correctional Institution Finance Authority, a group of seven state officials who have final authority over all financial decisions related to building or leasing state prisons. This is the second billion-dollar commitment made by the Alabama Department of Corrections in two months. In February, ADOC entered a $1 billion contract with private prison medical provider YesCare (formerly Corizon).

NY Times: San Quentin Could Be the Future of Prisons in America
In an op-ed, Bill Keller, founding editor of The Marshall Project, writes: Governor Gavin Newsom’s ambitious new plan for San Quentin State Prison in California deserves national attention. However, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, has not always been a brilliant steward of its domain. Under a 2011 Supreme Court order to reduce severe overcrowding, the state offloaded thousands of inmates to unprepared county jails, and many ended up in homeless encampments. Newsom will have to navigate a narrow passage between skeptics on the punitive right and, on the left, his state’s chapter of the utopian prison abolition movement (who see any investment in prison reform as making a toxic system more palatable).

The Appeal: How Florida’s Dire Prison Staff Shortage Hurts People Inside
In response to a shortage of Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) officers, Governor Ron DeSantis sent the National Guard to nine state prisons, highlighting an ongoing crisis throughout an overcrowded and understaffed criminal legal system. The 300 guard members will temporarily provide security, hand out supplies, and perform other duties normally reserved for correctional officers.

Fox 5: Another Fulton County Jail officer fired, arrested
More disturbing accounts about misconduct at the Fulton County Jail. A jail monitor has told city leaders that some deputies are intentionally unlocking doors, and looking the other way, leaving inmates vulnerable to attacks. And, there is word of another arrest of an officer, fired by Sheriff Pat Labat.

Montana Free Press: Why Montana might start sending prisoners to Arizona
The roughly $13.4 billion budget bill that House lawmakers will debate and vote on in an all-day floor session Wednesday features language to send 120 state inmates to a private prison in Arizona. The amendment would authorize about $8 million over the next biennium for a contract with private prison giant CoreCivic, which operates five facilities in Arizona. CoreCivic has said it will charge the state $90 per day, per inmate, including travel, though the real sum may be higher. Critics of the proposal questioned whether it’s necessary to expand the state’s contract with CoreCivic.

Independent Record: Correctional officers get a raise, private prison raises get early approval
Correctional officers in Montana's state prisons got a raise Wednesday with the stroke of the governor's pen and their counterparts at a privately run prison may see the same bump. The bill grants correctional officers a $2-per-hour raise, building on another $2 raise negotiated since the last session. Employees at the women's prison in Billings and Pine Hills youth prison in Miles City got a $3 per hour raise with HB 3's passage.

OPB: Bill to create a commission overseeing health care in Oregon jails has died
Oregon lawmakers failed to advance legislation that aimed to strengthen health care in local jails. House Bill 3391 died in the House Judiciary Committee after failing to get scheduled for a work session by Friday’s deadline. “The bill either got overlooked or just didn’t have a high enough profile to get scheduled, which is really unfortunate,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who sponsored the legislation.

Pennsylvania Capital Star: Lawmakers question Pa. Corrections Department head on inmate health and safety
Lawmakers questioned the head of Pennsylvania’s prison system about inmate welfare and safety in a state House Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday on the Department of Corrections’ $2.9 billion budget proposal. Acting Department of Corrections Secretary Laurel Harry told members of the committee that prison populations are the lowest level since 2001. The Department of Corrections, like many state agencies, is struggling to fill about 750 vacant positions, particularly for corrections officers and nurses.

Los Angeles County Jail

LAist: A Rise In Suicides In LA Jails Underscores A Troubling Lack Of Mental Health Care
A report late last year from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department noted that people with mental health needs then stood at about 40% of the overall jail population. During the fourth quarter of 2021, the mental health population stood at 5,715 and comprised 43% of the total average inmate population of 13,319. Shortages of clinicians make the intractable task of caring for people with serious untreated mental health conditions all the more difficult, said Dan Mistak, director of health care initiatives for justice-involved populations at Oakland-based Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS).

Los Angeles Times: Three inmates died in Los Angeles County jails in just over a week
Three Los Angeles County inmates died in an nine-day period this month, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a grim milestone that comes even as the county is facing scrutiny in court for using a cash bail system that can keep poor people behind bars. The youngest of the men who died in March — 29-year-old Samuel Mark — was being held on misdemeanor charges for check fraud and theft, according to court records. He died Thursday morning at Men’s Central Jail, three days after his arrest. Like the others who died this month, he had not yet been sentenced for a crime.

Criminal Justice Reform

NY Times: Bail Law Is a Key Stumbling Block as New York’s Budget Deadline Lapses
The high-stakes battle over New York State’s $200 billion-plus budget has been overtaken by a highly divisive issue that has become a political minefield in one of the nation’s most liberal states: public safety. Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to change the state’s contentious bail law as part of the budget process, drawing forceful resistance from the members of her party who control the State Legislature.

CCJ: Task Force on Long Sentences Releases Comprehensive Roadmap to Strengthen Public Safety and Advance Justice
This report drawing on sentencing data and research, offers a comprehensive blueprint for action on a complex and polarizing topic. According to an updated analysis by CCJ, 63% of people in state prison in 2020 were serving a sentence of 10 or more years, up from 46% in 2005, a shift due largely to a decline in people serving shorter terms. During the same period, the gap between Black and White people receiving long terms widened, from half a percentage point to 4 percentage points.


NC Health News: Reentry simulation helps participants understand challenges facing people newly released from prison and jail
A reentry simulation, structured in four 15-minute increments, represents one month in the life of someone recently released from incarceration. The purpose of the exercise is to illustrate the magnitude of the challenges that people released from prison or jail encounter in the community. To start the simulation, organizers hand out a manila envelope to each participant. Inside are temporary identities as either someone leaving incarceration or as a worker at one of the various tables around the room that newly released people would encounter as they moved through tasks necessary to get their feet on the ground back in the community.

NIJ: Reentry and Why Investing in Second Chances Matters
Reentry involves an individual’s transition from life in jail or prison to life in the community. Research shows housing, employment, family unification, mental and physical health treatment, and support services to meet other critical needs are vital to fostering post-release success.

Kaiser Permanente: Sentenced to prison, not a life of bad health
Reentering society after serving time can land people in unhealthy situations. The Southern Center for Human Rights' reentry program helps individuals reentering get jobs, get IDs, get housing, and get the mental health resources and health care. The center also provides free legal services to people who can’t afford it.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Editor's Note:
A sheriff department's struggles to find a new health care vendor does not usually become a part of the news cycle. But that is exactly what is happening in Charleston County, South Carolina, which is the subject of the four articles below. After several deaths in the jail, that county's sheriff department became unsatisfied with its current vendor Wellpath. A request for proposal (RFP) was issued for a new vendor. Surprisingly, once the RFP process was completed, the sheriff department decided not to accept any applicant, even the highest scoring applicant, Vital Core. However, the Charleston County finance committee appears to have overridden the sheriff and approved Vital Core. Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano says she feels "hamstrung" by the search of a new vendor. These series of stories are of note as they reveal the structural tensions often hidden between a county and a sheriff, as counties usually fund the sheriff department’s operations, including health care. Also of note is that there seems to be a reversal of roles in Charleston County, it is often the county that has concerns about vendor selection, not the sheriff.

WCSC: Sheriff’s Office opposes current bids to jail medical provider replacement
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office (SC) is asking Charleston County to keep looking for a new medical provider for the jail, claiming no vendor that has responded to the County’s request for proposal would meet the current needs of the Al Cannon Detention Center. A selection committee recommended Kansas-based company VitalCore to take over for the current jail medical provider, Wellpath. Newly released emails from the Sheriff’s Office reveal that the agency has opposed all three vendors that applied for the contract bid, although it’s unclear for what reasons. That includes VitalCore as well as NaphCare and Armor Correctional Health Services.

WCSC: Sheriff’s Office releases emails, non-conformance reports regarding jail medical provider
In response to mounting pressures from politicians from the county to federal level, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has released hundreds of pages of documents hoping to set the record straight about the issues at the Al Cannon Detention Center. Communications director Amber Allen wrote in a letter to the public today that this was “an opportunity to present an unfiltered picture of what has been happening behind the scenes as we deal with poor medical services from the county-contracted provider, Wellpath, amid our own staff-shortage crisis that has been ongoing since 2014.”

WCSC: Finance committee approves recommendation for new jail medical provider
The Charleston County finance committee approved a selection committee’s recommendation for a new inmate medical provider starting this summer. Following an hour-and-a-half-long executive session behind closed doors Thursday evening, the committee voted unanimously in favor of awarding the contract bid to VitalCore Health Strategies. Emails released by the Sheriff’s Office reveal that the agency did not approve of any of the vendors that applied for the County’s request-for-proposal and have asked for the request for proposal to be re-solicited.

WCSC: Sheriff says she’s hamstrung in finding replacement for jail medical provider
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano says she has been hamstrung by the county and current jail medical provider, Wellpath, in making sure the 1000-plus inmates at the jail are in good hands. “They’re basing their decision on money and not on the quality of care,” Graziano said “And the people in this building are members are our community. They deserve the same level of care that they would get if they were not in this facility. We cannot cut corners on that.” Though the sheriff’s office runs the jail, it is the county that signs off on the contracts.

Other Vendor In The News
Courier Post: County inmate's death blamed on COVID, bad in-jail medical care in state lawsuit
The death of a man who allegedly contracted COVID-19 while held in Cumberland County Jail is now the subject of a state lawsuit against the county, former and current jail administrators, as well as the company and its employees hired to provide medical services. The defendants, besides the county, are former Warden Charles Warren and CFG Health Systems LLC of Marlton also is a defendant, along with one of its doctors and five nurses.

ClassAction.org: CorrectCare Sued Over 2022 Data Breach Affecting 1.5M Consumers
CorrectCare-Integrated Health, LLC faces a proposed class action over a 2022 data breach that impacted almost 1,500,000 individuals, including those who have “interacted with” the Georgia Department of Public Safety and Corrections and county jails statewide. The 21-page case claims CorrectCare, which provides medical claims processing for correctional facilities, discovered on July 6, 2022 that two file directories on its web server containing patient information had been “inadvertently exposed”.

ABC 13: 13 Investigates: Harris Health vows to 'do better' with inmate care
When Harris Health System took over healthcare services for the county jail last year, leadership at the health system told us they knew they "inherited some risks." Now, one year later, Hill said the health system is still working on implementing those changes and more, including working with jail staff to ensure nurses have the escorts they need to provide medication to inmates on time. An investigation found the jail has been cited for the same healthcare deficiencies more than once, and it is still non-compliant with state jail standards, including for not booking inmates within 48 hours and not delivering medication in a timely manner.