Weekly Update: October 20, 2020

COCHS Weekly Update: October 20, 2020

Mortality in Corrections

Reuters: Dying In Jails
The U.S. government collects detailed data on who’s dying in which jails around the country – but won’t let anyone see it. So, Reuters conducted its own tally of fatalities in America’s biggest jails, pinpointing where suicide, botched healthcare and bad jailkeeping are claiming lives in a system with scant oversight. The Justice Department has grown more secretive about the fatality data under the Trump administration. While the Bureau of Justice Statistics never has released jail-by-jail mortality figures, it traditionally has published aggregated statistics every two years or so. The 2016 report wasn't issued until this year. Reuters found Justice Department consultant Steve Martin, who has inspected more than 500 U.S. prisons and jails. He said that in all the cases he's investigated, he recalls only one homicide being reported accurately. The others were categorized as “medical, respiratory failure, or whatever".

Reuters: The Data Behind The Preceding Article "Dying Inside"
Reuters journalists filed more than 1,500 public records requests to gain death data from 2008 to 2019 in the nation’s biggest jails. Today, jail by jail and state by state, it is making that information available to the public. Reuters examined every large jail in the United States, those with 750 or more inmates. And, to ensure it examined deaths across the country, it obtained data for the 10 largest jails in each state. The data covers 523 jails or jail systems and are available both in PDFs and CSV files.

Medicaid's Impact on Decreasing Incarceration

Medicaid and Incarceration: The Impact of Youth Medicaid Eligibility on Adult Incarceration
In a paper by Samuel Arenberg, Seth Neller and Sam Striplings, the authors identify an important spillover associated with public health insurance: reduced incarceration. In 1990, Congress passed legislation that increased Medicaid eligibility for individuals born after September 30, 1983. We show that Black children born just after the cutoff are 5 percent less likely to be incarcerated by age 28, driven primarily by a decrease in incarcerations connected to financially motivated offenses. Children of other races, who experienced almost no gain in Medicaid coverage as a result of the policy, demonstrate no such decline. We find that reduced incarceration in adulthood substantially offsets the initial costs of expanding eligibility.

Reminder: SUPPORT Act Nominations

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation: Medicaid Reentry Stakeholder Group
On October 1, HHS published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting nominations of individuals to serve on a stakeholder advisory committee on Medicaid reentry transitions, as required by Congress in the SUPPORT Act, enacted in October 2018. The purpose of the group is to provide advice and consultation to the Secretary on innovative strategies to help individuals who are inmates of public institutions, and otherwise eligible for Medicaid, ensure continuity of coverage and seamless transitions back to the community. The group, which will meet once, will consist of two federal members and 22 non-federal members “who are representatives of managed care organizations, Medicaid beneficiaries, health care providers, the National Association of Medicaid Directors, state Medicaid agencies, and representatives from local and state prison systems,” according to the notice. Nominations are due October 23, 2020.

Webinar Today

National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine: Decarcerating Correctional Facilities During COVID-19 (Webinar Today, Oct. 20 11:00 AM EDT)
Released today, October 20: A report providing information to policymakers, correctional officials, and public health officials on best practices for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities through large-scale release and decarceration efforts. Today's webinar will include an overview of the study process and discussion of the report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations.

Lived Experience Survey

Community Catalyst and Faces & Voice of Recovery: Nothing about us, without us!
Community Catalyst and Faces & Voices of Recovery are looking for people with lived experiences of substance use challenges, including addiction, to help us improve services. This includes people with substance use disorders, people who are still using substances, people in recovery (using whatever definition of recovery is right for you), and family members of adults with substance use challenges, including those who have died from substance use. Spanish version of this survey is also available.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

New York Times: ‘I Just Kind of Lost It’: As Coronavirus Cases Soar, One Montana Town Reels
Nationally, jails and prisons have seen disproportionate rates of infection and death, with a mortality rate twice as high as in the general population and an infection rate more than four times as high, according to recent data. A New York Times database has tracked clusters of at least 50 coronavirus cases in a dozen rural jails in Montana, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico during the pandemic. Among them: the Purgatory Correctional Center in Hurricane, Utah, with 166 infections; the jail in Twin Falls, Idaho, with 279; and, in New Mexico, the Cibola County Correctional Center, which has reported 357 cases.

The Bemidji Pioneer: Lockdown eased at Minnesota prison after 90 inmates tested positive for COVID-19
Officials at Minnesota's prison in Stillwater were easing lockdown rules Monday, Oct. 12, after 90 inmates tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week. Prison officials announced over the weekend that mass coronavirus testing had identified the large number of COVID-19 cases in two areas, Cell Hall D and Atlantis. The prison has had 115 total coronavirus cases out of an inmate population of 1,273.

Trib Live: Westmoreland jail virus outbreak explodes
The coronavirus outbreak at Westmoreland County Prison in Pennsylvania continued to grow over the Columbus Day weekend. Another 33 inmates and two more guards tested positive for the virus since late last week, county commissioners said. That brings the total number of infected inmates to 36 in addition to the four guards who tested positive. All but three of the infected inmates were asymptomatic.

COVID-19 Preventive Release

The Patriot Ledger: Lawsuit seeking release of federal inmates at Plymouth County jail over coronavirus concerns dismissed
Inmates at the Plymouth County jail facing federal charges have dropped a potential class action lawsuit that sought to release some detainees because of coronavirus concerns at the facility. The litigation, filed in federal court in April by four men, claimed that keeping federal inmates in the facility amid the coronavirus violated the detainee’s constitutional rights. U.S. District Court Judge Leo Sorokin disagreed. In May, Sorokin denied the men’s request for an injunction, and found that the men hadn’t established that the conditions at the jail were unsafe enough to grant the men relief. The detainees dismissed their lawsuit on Thursday.

COVID-19 Voices of Inmates and Their Families

The Post and Courier: As SC prisons struggle to stop coronavirus, inmates say quarantine conditions are inhumane
When Teresa Bebeau remembers losing her friend Mark Trammell, she doubles her mourning. South Carolina’s prison system had two chances to save his life, she said, and they failed him both times. On July 6, Trammell would become one of 31 South Carolina prisoners killed by the virus during their sentences, falling ill in conditions that inmates call inhumane and South Carolina Department of Corrections authorities say are the best they can manage as prisons across the nation struggle with understaffing.

VPR: As COVID-19 Cases Soar, Avenal Inmates Increasingly Concerned About Mental Health
After a tremendous spike in early June and many fluctuations since, Avenal’s cumulative tally of nearly 3,000 COVID-19 cases is now the highest of any of California’s state prisons. Data from the New York Times suggest it may now be the highest of any correctional institution in the country. And yet so many men there can’t say with any uncertainty how many of their fellow inmates have contracted the virus or died of it, and they feel that the system is keeping them in the dark as it constantly changes policies on measures like mask wearing and shared yard time.

KSL: Families of inmates say Utah prison isn’t doing enough amid virus outbreak
Families of inmates in the Utah State Prison gathered outside the Draper offices of state corrections officials Tuesday, condemning their handling of a coronavirus outbreak that has sickened nearly 300 inmates at its Draper site and more than 60 employees. The group joined advocates with the ACLU of Utah in calling for greater releases of inmates who are vulnerable or near the end of their sentences. And they criticized what in their telling are lapses in basic medical care for those incarcerated at the prison’s Draper site.

COVID-19 Stimulus Payments

Los Angeles Times: Federal stimulus checks must go to prison inmates, U.S. judge in California rules
For months, incarcerated people across the country have received conflicting and confusing information about whether they can legally collect federal coronavirus stimulus funds, while the Internal Revenue Service flip-flopped on the question. A federal judge recently made clear that those behind bars do qualify for the $1,200 checks, approved by Congress earlier this year as part of the largest economic aid package in U.S. history. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled the decision to exclude them was arbitrary and capricious.

COVID-19 Reentry Services

Richmond Confidential: Navigating prison reentry during a pandemic
Under typical circumstances, reentry for justice-impacted people – those just released from prison – is a path laid with obstacles large and small, from securing housing and employment to getting a state ID. That is why organizations such as the Reentry Success Center and the Safe Return Project in Richmond have pivoted their programming and services to an online format during the pandemic.

Incarceration and Women

KHN: New Moms Behind Bars Get Help From Someone Who’s Been There
Nine years ago, Nina Porter gave birth in a hospital bed with one of her ankles chained to the frame. Porter's release in 2012, led to a new mission of supporting incarcerated moms as they adjust to life on the outside. This month, a program Porter developed called Mothers on the Rise. The project, among the first of its kind, aims to help formerly incarcerated mothers maneuver a post-prison world that can often be unwelcoming.

The 19th: 503: Inside the COVID unit at the world’s largest women’s prison
The Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) is the largest women’s prison in the world. When CCWF officials began to limit activities and movement to safeguard against the coronavirus, building 503 was turned into a quarantine unit with 100 beds for isolation. Via email, The 19th interviewed nine people incarcerated at CCWF. Eight of them told The 19th that CCWF was holding prisoners who had tested negative for the virus in 503, quarantining people who were COVID-19 negative in close proximity to those who had the virus. The ninth discussed lack of safety related to the virus in the prison but did not reference building 503

Diverting People with Behavioral Health Disorders

The Spokesman-Review: Spokane City Council commits $1.1 million to new jail diversion facility
The Spokane City Council agreed Monday to contribute $1.1 million toward a new facility that will, in lieu of jail, treat people with mental health and substance abuse disorders who are arrested for low-level crimes. Currently, the city of Spokane pays more than $130 a night to house someone it arrests in the county jail. On top of that figure, the county is responsible for their medical and mental health expenses, Beggs said, because Medicaid does not cover treatment for jail inmates. By creating a facility that is not a jail, Beggs said “the vast majority of the cost of treating them and housing them is picked up by Medicaid.”

PLOS Medicine: Health outcomes and cost-effectiveness of diversion programs for low-level drug offenders: A model-based analysis
Jail diversion programs aim to divert low-level drug offenders toward community care resources, avoiding criminal justice costs and disruptions in treatment for HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV), and drug abuse. Diversion programs for low-level drug offenders are likely to be cost-effective, generating savings in the criminal justice system while only moderately increasing healthcare costs. Such programs can reduce incarceration and its associated costs, and also avert overdose deaths and improve quality of life

The Washington Post: In one Virginia courtroom, a judge tries to stop a revolving door
More than 2 million times every year, a person with a mental illness lands in jail for a minor infraction related to that illness — noise complaints, public urination, failure to comply with an order. For decades, judges and police didn’t want to play the role of social workers. They stuck to law and order. That approach packed the jails, cost the taxpayers millions and didn’t treat anybody. Judge Penney Azcarate, a military veteran, kept seeing veterans struggling with PTSD and other issues before her in court, on first-time charges. She was troubled by that, recognized their mental illness and knew there were better answers for them than jail time.

Solitary Confinement

The New York Times: As N.Y.C. Jails Become More Violent, Solitary Confinement Persists
The number of people held in New York City jails has dropped steadily under Mayor Bill de Blasio, and it continued to fall this year as the city emptied out its jails to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But there is one number at Rikers Island and the city’s other jails that has held constant in the last three years, despite the mayor’s strenuous efforts to reduce it: the tally of people in solitary confinement. Even as the jail population dropped, correction officials have relied on solitary confinement to punish about the same number of inmates each year since 2017.

Healthcare Shortages in Corrections

Sacramento Bee: Battered by pandemic, Sacramento County loses medical director for troubled jails
Sacramento County is searching for a doctor to oversee the beleaguered health care system inside its two jails after the previous medical director resigned from the post after 17 months. Dr. Tammy Morin, who served in the role since March 2019, left the job with the county’s Department of Health Services at the end of August. Under internal and public pressure, public health leaders throughout the country and California have resigned from top jobs as the demands of the pandemic create more duties and scrutiny.

The Crime Report: Access to Health Care for Inmates Worsened Since Pandemic, Webinar Told
Access to health care for incarcerated individuals has deteriorated as a result of restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, according to correctional health experts and prisoner advocates. With many prisons and jails adopting strict lockdown policies, in some cases quarantining individuals in solitary cells, regular checkups and tests for inmates with non-COVID health issues have been cut back or cancelled.

Private Prisons & Correctional Healthcare Vendors

Daily Kos: 'Major blow to detention apparatus': Private prison group loses lawsuit challenging California ban
In a major loss for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison profiteer GEO Group, a federal judge has largely upheld California law banning private prisons, including those that jail immigrants for the federal government. Concerned about profits over people, GEO Group sued following the legislation’s signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom last year. On Thursday, GEO Group lost. GEO Group sued the state of California just weeks after the legislation’s passage last year, calling the bill “a direct assault on the supremacy of federal law.” Or maybe it’s really just worried about its pocketbook: along with CoreCivic, “the two companies account for 85 percent of the U.S. private prison market, and a majority of their revenue comes from housing immigrants,” VICE reported in 2017.

East Bay Times: Judge calls federal government ‘dishonest,’ orders prisoner reduction at private California ICE detention center
A U.S. District Court judge on Thursday, saying he was “concerned with a lack of candor and honesty,” ordered the federal government to reduce its prisoner population at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center by more than 38 percent beginning Monday. Judge Terry J. Hatter ordered ICE to release 50 prisoners a day beginning Monday until the private prison’s population whittles down from 772 to 475. The private prison, operated by The Geo Group and the largest immigration detention facility in California, has long been the target of protests by Latino and Immigrant rights groups, who allege unsafe conditions and inhumane treatment of detainees.

Santa Fe New Mexican: New Mexico Corrections pays $1.4 million to settle whistleblower case
The state Corrections Department spent three years and about $270,000 fighting a whistleblower lawsuit filed by one of its highest-ranking employees before paying her $1.4 million in March to drop her complaint, according to recently released public records. McDermott, a clinical psychologist with a doctorate from Yale, was the Corrections Department’s behavioral health bureau chief for 13 years before she was fired in 2016 over a personnel dispute, which she said was retaliation for raising concerns about the quality of the medical care being provided to prisoners. McDermott said at the time she had seen firsthand poor care being provided by Corizon Correctional Health Care, then known as CMS, and she began alerting corrections officials about the problems as early as 2009 following the unusually high number of inmate deaths the year before.

AZ Central: 4 CoreCivic employees have died of COVID-19 in Arizona: 3 at a Florence prison and 1 at Eloy immigration detention center
Four employees at facilities in Arizona owned by CoreCivic have died after being infected with COVID-19. Three of the employees worked at the Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex, and one worked at the Eloy Detention Center. The deaths were disclosed Friday by a CoreCivic official a day after the Arizona Industrial Commission cleared CoreCivic of violating any safety and health regulations in connection with one of the deaths at the Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex, a private prison owned and operated by the Nashville-based company.

AL.com: Partnering with CoreCivic: A bad deal for Alabama
In an op-ed Isabel Coleman writes: CoreCivic used to be called the Corrections Corporation of America, but in 2016, after more than a decade of scandals and a steep drop in their stock price, they changed their name and structure to reflect the addition of services like prison leasing and reentry programs. CoreCivic has run as many as three prisons in Kentucky, and some of the worst abuse occurred at a women’s prison called Otter Creek. This facility housed around 400 individuals, and managed in just three years to rack up 23 investigations into incidents of sexual misconduct by prison staff. Corecivic didn’t report several of these incidents to state officials. Ultimately, at least six staffers, including the prison’s chaplain, were criminally charged.

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Prisoner at Pahrump facility 1st known inmate in Nevada to die of coronavirus
A 29-year-old federal prisoner has become the first known incarcerated person in Nevada to die of the coronavirus, according to the federal public defender’s office. Brandon Patton, 29, died while in custody at the Southern Nevada Detention Center, a federal facility in Pahrump, the Nevada federal public defender’s office said in a statement Friday. Attorneys had filed two motions for Patton’s release due to the coronavirus, but six weeks before Patton died, a judge ordered him to stay at the detention center. The detention center is run by CoreCivic, a private company, and houses federal prisoners who were sentenced there or who are awaiting trial, along with ICE detainees.