Weekly Update: October 26, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: October 26, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Capital & Main: Why No Mandated Vaccinations for California Prison Workers?
Almost from the outset of the pandemic’s reach into California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has put himself and the state through a contradictory series of orders. Even with a federal judge flatly stating that unvaccinated prison employees are “the primary vector” of infection among inmates, Newsom is again coming down on the side of a political ally — in this case, an ally, the state prison guards’ union, that contributed heavily to defeat the governor’s recall from office.

San Diego Union Tribune: Calif. prison guards are vaccinated at lower rate than inmates; state officials don’t seem worried
A fight to vaccinate California’s prison guards is raging, and the prolonged struggle invites scrutiny of the state’s prison guard union and of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Last week a Kern County judge partially blocked a public health order that would have required all California prison employees who work around or near prison health care settings to be vaccinated against COVID-19. More specifically the judge’s order, which came at the request of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, prevents enforcement of the vaccination mandate only for guards and peace officers.

The Hill: Judge rules in favor of vaccine mandate for some California prison guards
A California judge on Friday ruled in favor of a vaccine mandate for some California prison guards, arguing that the court was not in a position to dictate how the state should be taking steps to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association attempted to fight a vaccine mandate that California’s Department of Public Health instituted in mid-August requiring certain prison staff, including correctional officers, to get inoculated if they work near health care settings.

Stanford Medicine: Moderna vaccine provides strong protection against delta variant in prison outbreak, study shows
A Stanford study at a California prison found that although there were more breakthrough COVID-19 infections than before the emergence of the delta variant, vaccinated prison residents had few symptomatic cases. The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, also found that in the men who had previously been infected with COVID-19, two doses of the Moderna vaccine resulted in additional, substantial protection against the delta variant.

BJS: Jails in Indian Country, 2019–2020 and the Impact of COVID-19 on the Tribal Jail Population
This report describes the number and demographics, such as age, sex, and most serious offense, of people held in Indian country jails. It provides the number of COVID-19 tests administered to persons held in Indian country jails and the percentage of tests that were positive. It includes statistics on the number of people released early due to the pandemic and how those releases impacted the occupancy rate of Indian country jails.

COVID-19 Surge

North Carolina Health News: COVID outbreaks continue in NC jails, which are exempt from state vaccine mandate
As the most recent Delta variant wave of the coronavirus pandemic appears to be tapering off in most of North Carolina, carceral facilities are still experiencing outbreaks. At least three people in different county jails have died due to the coronavirus in the past month, according to weekly outbreak reports from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Gov. Roy Cooper has required staff at the state-run prisons to either provide proof of vaccination. But for the state’s close to 100 county-run jails, also called detention centers, there is no such protocol.

Sacramento Bee: Health staff responds to Sacramento County Jail COVID outbreak among unvaccinated inmates
Sacramento County health officials are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at two correctional facilities. There are roughly 70 positive cases combined at the Sacramento County Main Jail and the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. Health officials said the positive cases at the two facilities are amongst unvaccinated people and that vaccination is available, as well as education about vaccine benefits.

COVID-19 ICE Detainees & The Courts

Los Angeles Times: Appeals court tosses order aimed at protecting immigration detainees from COVID-19
A federal appeals court decided 2 to 1 to overturn a nationwide order requiring federal immigration authorities to monitor and possibly release detainees at high risk of dying or suffering long-term complications from COVID-19. A panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a federal district judge overreached when he issued a preliminary injunction requiring the government to identify and track immigration detainees with certain health risks and establish directives for release.

Rikers Island

New York Times: N.Y.C. Jail Deaths Climb to 14 as Detainee Is Taken Off Life Support
A Harlem man who was left critically injured last week after trying to hang himself in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction was taken off life support on Monday, becoming the 14th person to die this year amid a deepening crisis in the city’s jail system. Mr. Scott died during the deadliest year in the jail system since 2016, as city officials have struggled with converging crises — mounting disorder at Rikers Island.


Injustice Watch: Health care in Illinois prisons is deficient
More than a decade has passed since incarcerated people filed a class action lawsuit accusing the Illinois Department of Corrections of failing to provide adequate medical care to people in custody. But health care in the state’s prisons still falls short according to a new report from an independent monitor. The monitor found that prison medical units are understaffed, patient intake screenings do not fully address patients’ medical problems or create a care plan, and the department does not review deaths in custody to identify opportunities for medical care improvement.

Pregnancy and Criminal Justice

Los Angeles Times: Editorial: An injustice of miscarriage in Oklahoma lands a woman in prison
Criminalizing a woman for suffering a miscarriage seems unfathomable and even barbaric. But that is exactly what happened earlier this month in a Lawton, Okla., courtroom. When Brittney Poolaw, a Oklahoma woman, miscarried at her home in January 2020, she was taken to a hospital where she told staff that she had used methamphetamine and marijuana during her pregnancy. Two months later, she was charged with first-degree manslaughter. Her pregnancy was 17 weeks along.

Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer: Governor Whitmer Expands Maternal and Post-Partum Healthcare for Prisoners
Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced a new policy directive that will guarantee critical medical resources and support to pregnant and post-partum prisoners and their newborns. The directive formalizes existing MDOC practices in areas such as the limitation on the use of restraints and the provision of Medication Assisted Treatment, while expanding the use of birth plans and allowing prisoners additional time with their newborns immediately after delivery.

Opioid Epidemic

The Guardian: Price for drug that reverses opioid overdoses soars amid record deaths
As the United States faces an unprecedented surge in opioid overdoses, harm reduction groups are seeing shortages in naloxone. But it’s not because of a lack of supply; there’s actually plenty of naloxone out there. Instead, the dangerous shortage of naloxone is all about soaring prices. Community groups working to prevent overdose deaths are now paying up to 30 times more for the life-saving medication.

Governing: A Crucial Lifeline for Opioid Recovery: Supportive Housing
Dozens of states and hundreds of local governments are determining how to spend their shares of the $30 billion in combined settlement funds from Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, Johnson & Johnson and major drug distributors intended to address the impact of the opioid epidemic. Each state and locality will naturally use the settlement dollars to meet a unique set of needs. But from California to Connecticut, housing — and specifically supportive housing — must be a key part of the response to this crisis. Housing is a lifeline for people who are experiencing or recovering from substance abuse disorders.

Rippon Advance: Murkowski plans to unveil opioid addiction treatment legislation
Bipartisan legislation being introduced by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would create a new federal grant program to support opioid-use disorder (OUD) treatment at state and local correctional facilities. The Community Re-Entry through Addiction Treatment to Enhance (CREATE) Opportunities Act, which Sen. Murkowski will introduce with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), would establish the Medication-Assisted Treatment Corrections and Community Reentry Program at the U.S. Department of Justice, according to information provided by Sen. Murkowski’s office.

NCCHC: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder in State Prisons: A Look at Current Delivery Status
A research team at Chestnut Health Systems conducedt a study of health care practices currently being implemented by correctional facilities and organizations to address the opioid epidemic. What they found paints a complex picture. All 21 participating state prison systems reported that one or more of their prisons provide at least one of the three types of MOUD (i.e., methadone, buprenorphine, and/or naltrexone). Almost all (19 of 21) prison systems reported that treatment with buprenorphine is available in at least one prison within their system.

CNN: US reaches record high of more than 96,000 drug overdose deaths in a 12-month period, CDC data show
Reported drug overdose deaths in the United States hit a new high of more than 96,000 in the 12-month period ending March 2021, according to data released Wednesday by the CDC. In that 12 months, a period when Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the United States and shut down normal daily routine. The US saw 96,779 reported drug overdose deaths, an increase of 29.6% from March 2020 to March 2021.

Drug Possesion Decriminalization

Baltimore Sun: Hopkins researchers find no uptick in crime, complaints after Marilyn Mosby stops prosecuting drug possession
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University measured Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s policy to quit prosecuting drug possession and prostitution, finding no increase in citizen complaints or greater threat to public safety. Hopkins researchers found she dropped charges against 741 people. Six of those people were rearrested for violent crimes such as robbery and assault, the researchers wrote. That’s less than 1%.


The Crime Report: How $24M in Cash Grants Provided a Lifeline for Returning Citizens During Pandemic
The Returning Citizen Stimulus (RCS) program, a first-of-its-kind cash assistance program exclusively for returning citizens. Beginning in April 2020, more than 10,000 people have received similar help from the RCS program, which was designed and implemented by the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)—a nonprofit organization that provides employment services to returning citizens)—with support from Blue Meridian Partners on behalf of the Justice and Mobility Fund.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health

Kanasas City Star: Kansas inmates wait months for mental health treatment
Inmates with mental health issues are waiting months to get the medication and treatment they need to be deemed competent to assist in their own defense because a state hospital is so overtaxed. Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister said the situation is so bad that the case of one man with severe mental health issues took six years to make it through the court system. The man ultimately was sentenced to 16 months — less than a quarter of the amount of time he had been incarcerated.

Dallas Observer: A Texas Man Begged for Mental Health Help. Instead, He Ended Up in Jail Time and Again.
In the months before he stepped into oncoming traffic, Enus Lewis, 39, knew he was unraveling. He showed up at Tyler’s state mental health provider, asking them to admit him to an inpatient psychiatric facility to keep him from killing himself. Lewis’ mother and friends echoed his pleas, begging the clinicians to see how much his mental state had deteriorated. But they still turned him away.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Washington Post: In New Mexico, a bold experiment aims to take police out of the equation for mental health calls
Albuquerque has established a new category of first responder. Starting in September, 911 dispatchers had an option beyond the police, with social workers and others in related fields patrolling the city and fielding calls pertaining to mental health, substance abuse or homelessness that otherwise would have been handled by an armed officer.

San Diego Union Tribune: County Supervisors OK study to keep some with mental illness, drug problems out of jail
The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a proposal to take a data-driven approach to identifying programs and services to keep thousands of people out of jail each year without jeopardizing public safety. An American Addiction Centers' study found it costs $81,000 a year to incarcerate someone with a mental health illness, versus $32,000 a year to provide housing and social services. Sheriff Bill Gore agrees there should be alternatives to incarceration, especially for people who cycle through jail due to homelessness, addiction and mental illness.

Seattle Times: Prioritize mental-health care as jails are defunded
With all the attention on police funding, efforts to reduce the King County jail budget have gone largely unnoticed. The pandemic prompted King County to pull millions of dollars from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among those incarcerated. Now Seattle and county leaders are angling to make those jail reductions permanent, redirecting that money to community groups for housing and other projects.

WBUR: Suffolk County Sheriff says courtroom in his jail will soon open to help address ‘Mass. and Cass’ addiction crisis
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins' plan to outfit his jail with a new addiction treatment program — along with a makeshift courtroom to process criminal cases — appears to be on the verge of reality. Construction is underway, and Tompkins expects the facility to be ready in a matter of weeks. It was just a month ago when Tompkins first suggested using available space at the jail as a way to respond to what the city describes as a growing crisis of hundreds of people living on Boston streets.

Prison Contractors

New York Times: JPay, a prison contractor, was fined over fees it charged to former prisoners
JPay, a financial services contractor serving prisons, will pay $6 million in fines and restitution to settle claims brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that it took advantage of former prisoners by forcing them to pay fees to access their own money. JPay, which is owned by the private equity firm Platinum Equity Partners, agreed to pay $2 million in fines, the C.F.P.B. said in an announcement on Tuesday. The company also agreed to return another $4 million to people who were forced to pay fees to access money they were owed.

Private Prisons

Tennessee Lookout: COVID rates at CoreCivic prisons soar above rates at state-run facilities
At two private prisons, COVID-19 positive test rates are three times higher than at the average state-run facility in Tennessee, according to Tennessee Department of Corrections aggregate data. In 2020, the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury released a scathing audit of TDOC, reporting that CoreCivic mishandled data regarding deaths, sexual abuses, violence and inmate health.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Seattle Times: King County jail pays $2 million to partially settle suit over woman who died in custody
Attorneys for the family of a 43-year-old mother of five who died after being booked into the South County Correctional Entity in Des Moines in 2018 while suffering from a mental-health crisis say the jail has agreed to settled a portion of a lawsuit for $2 million. The settlement leaves several claims against SCORE and its for-profit health care provider, Birmingham, Alabama-based Naphcare, intact after a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss them, and they appear headed to trial, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

The Oklahoman: Medical assistant arrested in Oklahoma County Jail contraband case
A medical assistant contracted through Turnkey Medical, was responsible for delivering medications to inmates. According to a probable cause affidavit provided by the jail, the medical assistant was arrested Saturday for Introduction of contraband into a penal facility. The affidavit states that the jail received a tip about the assistan passing contraband to inmates on the eighth and 10th floors during.