Weekly Update: November 30, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: November 30, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Health Affairs Blog: Initiating Medicaid Coverage In Prison 30-Days Prior To Reentry
For the Health Affairs Blog, Jacqueline Lantsman writes: While concerns over the welfare of incarcerated individuals have haunted communities for generations—and Black and Brown communities disproportionately—the COVID-19 pandemic elevated these issues to the general public’s attention. Allowing Medicaid funding for individuals as they prepare to return to the community is especially important in the jail setting where the population disproportionately consists of individuals with substance use disorder. The gradual, state-by-state approach to enrolling individuals in Medicaid is insufficient.

The Hill: Putting Medicaid behind bars
In an opinion piece, Daniel Teixeira da Silva, MD, writes: Tucked away in the Build Back Better Act that passed the House is a provision that would allow people who are incarcerated to receive Medicaid benefits 30 days prior to release. It would end a policy that excludes inmates from coverage. In my clinical training, I saw the consequences of the inmate exclusion policy firsthand. Without health insurance, it is not surprising that the hospitalization rate for people released from incarceration is over two times higher than the general public.

Conduit Street: What the U.S. House Reconciliation Package Means for Counties
A key provision for counties in the US House Reconciliation package authorizes the Medicaid Reentry Act, a priority for counties, which would allow incarcerated individuals to receive services covered by Medicaid 30 days prior to their release from jail.

NASHP: States Allowing Telehealth Prescriptions for Opioid Use Disorder
NASHP has developed an interactive map that provides a snapshot of current telehealth MOUD state policy 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. State approaches to prescribing MOUD via telehealth currently vary greatly: some states explicitly allow it, some explicitly do not allow it, and some state PHEs have expired, effectively ending the practice in the absence of further guidance regarding prescribing MOUD via telehealth.

The Sentencing Project: Fact Sheet: Parents in Prison
This fact sheet provides key facts on parents in prison and policies that impede their ability to care for their children when released from prison.

Washington Post: Under Trump, ICE aggressively recruited sheriffs as partners to question and detain undocumented immigrants
Despite mounting concerns about discriminatory policing, the Trump administration aggressively recruited local law enforcement partners and courted sheriffs who championed similar views on immigration policy, according to dozens of internal ICE emails. Immigration advocates have appealed to the Biden administration to terminate the program altogether. In response to questions from The Post, ICE said it “continually evaluates the overall effectiveness of the program” and provides strict oversight of local partners.

COVID-19 Surge in Corrections

The Olympian: Over 50 positive for COVID-19 at Yakima County jail
The Yakima Health District has reported that staff members and people in custody have contracted COVID-19 in the latest outbreak inside the Yakima County Jail. The health district reported 47 people in custody have been confirmed with COVID-19 as well as four staff members. An outbreak involving more than two dozen people in southwest Washington’s Clark County Jail was also reported this week.

OPB: About 25 inmates test positive for COVID-19 at Clark County Jail
About two dozen people lodged in a Southwest Washington jail have tested positive for COVID-19. Clark County Jail Chief Phil Sample estimated as of Monday morning that between 20 to 25 inmates tested positive out of a facility population of about 340. That means about 7% of the in-custody population tested positive. The case count Monday was the highest since Sample took over as jail chief in July, he said.

Mercury News: Santa Clara County jail COVID-19 surge left no space for quarantine
Health officials overseeing medical care in the Santa Clara County jail system say a record surge in COVID-19 cases this month — primarily at the Elmwood men’s jail in Milpitas — got so bad that they couldn’t adequately quarantine people because they literally ran out of space. To quell the infection spike, they are recommending that a decrease in the jail population of nearly 20%, to get it under 2,000 people — an idea that has been met with firm resistance from the sheriff’s office, which runs the county jails.

COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate in Corrections

US News & World Report: Court temporarily blocks COVID-19 vaccine mandate for California prisons
A federal appeals court temporarily blocked an order that all California prison workers must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or have a religious or medical exemption. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request for a stay of September’s lower court order pending an appeal. It also sped up the hearing process by setting a Dec. 13 deadline for opening briefs. The vaccination mandate was supposed to have taken effect by Jan. 12 but the appellate court stay blocks enforcement until sometime in March, when the appeal hearing will be scheduled.

Berkshire Eagle: Essex County sheriff to require employee vaccinations
A Massachusetts sheriff is requiring proof of coronavirus vaccination for all employees, vendors and contractors at the jail his office oversees. Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger, who oversees the Middleton House of Correction, said he expects the mandate to survive legal challenges. The mandate takes effect Jan 4. The union representing Essex County correctional officers has already filed a prohibited practice complaint with the state’s Division of Labor Relations.

Data & Statistics

BJS: Federal Prisoner Statistics Collected under the First Step Act, 2021
This is the third report as required under the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA; P.L. 115-391). It includes data on federal prisoners provided to BJS by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for calendar year 2020. Under the FSA, BJS is required to report on selected characteristics of persons in prison, including marital, veteran, citizenship, and English-speaking status; education levels; medical conditions; and participation in treatment programs.

Illinois Criminal Justice Information: Examining the Link Between Unintentional Overdose Death and Prior Criminal History in Illinois
This study examines fatal drug overdoses in Illinois. It links Illinois unintentional fatal drug overdose data with two Illinois justice system data sources: arrest data and corrections data. This linkage made it possible to compare the characteristics of justice-involved and non-justice-involved drug overdose decedents.

Criminal Justice Reform

New York Times: He’s Remaking Criminal Justice in L.A. But How Far Is Too Far?
Last December, when George Gascón took over the largest local prosecutor’s office in the country, he made a complete break from the past. Gascón leveled an all-out attack on the status quo. The new district attorney described being arrested as “traumatic and dehumanizing,” lifting his hands for emphasis. He turned the argument for the “tough-on-crime approach” of other local law-enforcement leaders on its head, blaming their strategy for an eight-year rise in violent crime.

ABC News: DOJ finds Bureau of Prisons failed to apply earned time credits to 60,000 inmates
Sixty-thousand inmates potentially did not properly receive credits for time served under the First Step Act's recidivism programs, the Department of Justice inspector general found. The inspector general also found that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) failed to incentivize or reward inmates who completed First Step-related programs. After the implementation of the sweeping First Step Act, a recidivism program was put into place with time-served credit for inmates who completed it.

Chicago Tribune: Illinois should revise its prison sentencing laws
Nearly half of the men and women in Illinois prisons were sentenced years ago under the state’s truth-in-sentencing laws, and their time in prison cannot be reduced as a reward for good behavior or program completion. Truth in sentencing is exactly what it sounds like — if you are sentenced for 40 years, you serve 40 years. It’s time Illinois embraced the research showing that people’s behavior does change as they age and that long prison terms are both expensive and an obstacle to rehabilitation.

New York Times: Waukesha Suspect’s Previous Release Agitates Efforts to Overhaul Bail
In early November, prosecutors in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office made a fast, fateful decision, asking that bond for a 39-year-old repeat offender accused of brutalizing his girlfriend, then running over her with an S.U.V., be set at only $1,000. The bail decision has brought criticism raining down on Milwaukee County’s district attorney, John T. Chisholm, a Democrat who has tried to reduce high rates of incarceration and racial disparities in the justice system.

gothamist: NJ Cut Its Prison Population By 40% During 11 Months Of the Pandemic
As the coronavirus swept through New Jersey’s prison system last year, killing inmates at the highest rate in the nation for months, state leaders took an unprecedented step: They slashed the prison population by 40%. In October 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law that allowed those within a year of release to get out up to eight months early. The first-in-the-nation measure ultimately freed nearly 5,300 adults and juveniles from state custody over the last 11 months.

Violence in Corrections

Spectrum News 1: Top state prison official decries 'savagery' of attacks on prison staff
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association has raised concerns in recent years with spiking violence, however, as more violent offenders have been concentrated in fewer facilities. The union has called for state lawmakers to back legislation that would require the state to study violence in prisons directed at staff as well as people in prison and contraband entering the facilities. Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci was taken aback by the "sheer savagery of the assault, the randomness of the assault" in the prison system.


Sacramento Bee: California law allows transgender inmates in women’s prisons. Now, female inmates are suing
A woman’s rights group is suing the state to overturn a new law that requires prisons to place transgender and gender nonbinary inmates in facilities that correspond to their gender identities, alleging the practice puts incarcerated people in danger. Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, both incarcerated women, allege they were sexually assaulted by inmates who identify as transgender or gender nonbinary. The lawsuit said that one of the alleged assaults occurred after the law went into effect, while the other alleged assault does not specify when it occurred.

New York Times: Man Held in Hawaii for More Than 2 Years Over Mistaken Identity Sues the State
A man was forced to spend more than two years in a psychiatric hospital, where he was medicated until he became “catatonic,” an ordeal that began after the police in Hawaii mistook him for another person wanted for a crime, according to a federal lawsuit. In November 2019, one of his psychiatrists obtained his birth certificate and realized that Mr. Spriestersbach was who he said he was, according to the petition filed in August. The hospital released him on Jan. 17, 2020, with 50 cents, two copies of his birth certificate and other documents.

Reentry & Women

KERA News: This Dallas program is helping moms who’ve been to prison launch tech careers
As the number of women behind bars in the U.S. has ballooned in recent decades, Texas became the top incarcerator of women in the nation. About 80% are mothers, and the vast majority of them will leave prison and return home. Brittany Barnett launched a nonprofit called Girls Embracing Mothers in 2013 to help girls in North Texas maintain and strengthen relationships with their imprisoned mothers, drawing on her family’s experience. The tech training pilot program is a partnership between Girls Embracing Mothers and the IT trade association CompTIA, which offers an array of certifications for in-demand tech skills.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Albuquerque Journal: Lawsuit: MDC inmate hung self unnoticed by staff
The mother of a Bernalillo County jail inmate who fatally hanged himself in his cell in 2020 is suing the county and the jail’s former health care provider alleging negligent behavior by staff contributed to his death. The lawsuit also alleges that Pacheco’s mental health deteriorated rapidly during three days in solitary confinement. It alleges that MDC and Centurion Detention Health Services LLC failed to provide mental health services even as the inmate begged for help.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Colorado Newsline: Proposed Colorado laws address intersection of mental illness, crime
Next year, Colorado lawmakers will consider several bills that would change how the criminal justice system treats mentally ill people. These include bills that: allow a person to be hospitalized for an emergency 72-hour treatment and evaluation when the person’s apparent mental health disorder present risk of harm to themselves or others; expand training and technical assistance to add supportive housing programs for people who have mental health or substance use disorders; Establish pretrial diversion programs to identify eligible defendants with mental health or substance use disorders.

Pittsburg Post-Gazette: Rare medical clinic aims to keep repeat offenders out of jail
Launched in June, Allegheny County Jail jail administrators say the Allegheny Health Network’s RivER Clinic is starting to address one of the major causes of people getting arrested over and over: medical issues — mostly addiction and mental health. Since its opening, the clinic has reached out to 160 former inmates through September after they were identified by the jail as needing healthcare because of addiction, chronic illnesses, or they were met on the street outside the facility as they were released.

Beaumont Enterprise: County needs new jail facility for inmates with drug or mental health problems
There is the growing awareness that Jefferson County needs a special facility to help inmates struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Larger counties have facilities that focus on helping these inmates instead of just warehousing them in a jail with other accused criminals. It’s still a serious challenge that often requires repeat visits for someone dealing with addiction or a mental illness.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

State of Reform: Rep. Rodriguez discusses his prefiled health bills
Arizona House Bills (HB) 2006 was prefiled on Nov. 17 and sponsored by Rep. Walter Blackman (R – Scottsdale) and Rep. Diego Rodriguez (D – Phoenix). HB 2006 concerns the state prison health care system. The bill prevents the Department of Corrections from entering into a contract with a private entity to administer correctional health care services and requiring the Department to administer all correctional health services themselves.

The Lens: City bidding out jail’s healthcare contract
The city of New Orleans has put out a request for proposals for companies interested in providing healthcare services in the city’s jail — a task that has long been the subject of criticism from court-appointed monitors, civil rights attorneys, and people incarcerated at the facility. Since 2014, healthcare at the jail has been provided by the largest correctional healthcare company in the country, Wellpath (formerly known as Correct Care Solutions), which has faced criticism around the country for substandard care and cost-cutting at the expense of providing necessary services. In New Orleans, Wellpath has been named in several wrongful death suits.