Weekly Update: October 12, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: October 12, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Suicide in Local Jails and State and Federal Prisons, 2000–2019 – Statistical Tables
This report includes statistics on demographic, criminal justice, and suicide incident characteristics and link 2019 suicides with facility-level information obtained in BJS’s recent censuses of local jail and prison facilities. From 2001 to 2019, the number of suicides increased 85% in state prisons, 61% in federal prisons, and 13% in local jails. During 2010-19, suffocation, including hanging and self-strangulation, accounted for nearly 90% of suicide deaths in local jails.

OPB: Jails in Washington and Oregon have higher suicide rate than national average
More than 200 people have died by suicide in Washington and Oregon jails since 2000, putting the Northwest states above the national average for jail suicides, according to a new report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. From 2000 to 2019, the average rate of suicide in jails nationally was 43 per 100,000 inmates. By contrast, Oregon’s jail suicide rate during that same time period was 48 per 100,000. In Washington it was 57 per 100,000.

Montana Free Press: Two inmates took their own lives at Montana State Prison last month
The Montana Department of Corrections announced Wednesday that two inmates at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge died by suicide in late September. The deaths appear to be the first confirmed suicides of inmates in DOC custody this year. In total, the state has reported that 17 inmates have died this year while in custody.

Institute for Innovation in Prosecution - John Jay College: Prosecution, Drug Use & Public Health
For decades, the United States has relied on the criminal system to respond to substance use disorder — with minimal success. With that in mind, the IIP published A New Approach: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Advancing a Public Health Response to Drug Use and several corresponding videos that provide prosecutors with strategies for advancing drug policy grounded in principles of harm reduction, public health, and racial justice.

New Yorker: Stash-House Stings Carry Real Penalties for Fake Crimes
Some judges began to voice concern about the A.T.F.’s tactics. “In this era of mass incarceration, in which we already lock up more of our population than any other nation on Earth,” Stephen Reinhardt, a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in 2014. A.T.F.’s undercover operations in Chicago were disproportionately targeting Black and brown men, violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection. Being Black significantly increased a person’s chance of being targeted by the A.T.F.

The Hill: California ends mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday signed a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. The bill, SB73, will allow judges to sentence individuals to probation rather than jail time for nonviolent drug offenses, such as possession of a small amount of heroin. This version of the bill was put forward by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who called for an end to “War on Drugs policies.”

The Hill: Congress must replace youth prisons with something that actually helps youth
In an op-ed, Patrick McCarthy, a Senior Fellow and Stoneleigh Fellow with the Justice Lab at Columbia University, writes: The time is now for the House to pass and the Senate to take up the Protecting Miranda Rights for Kids Act, Sara’s Law and the Preventing Unfair Sentencing Act of 2021, and the Childhood Offenders Rehabilitation and Safety Act of 2021. The youth legal system doesn’t work. Today, children as young as 6 years old are being pushed into courtrooms and expected to follow complex court proceedings that most adults have to attend law school and pass the bar exam to understand. While judges ask them whether they understand the ramifications of their actions, children color pictures with crayons as shackles intended for adults fall off their wrists.

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange: Sex Offender Registration Doesn’t Help Victims, Hurts Young Offenders
Jason was 14 years old when he met his first girlfriend, a 13-year-old neighbor of the foster family with whom he lived. After a few months of dating, his girlfriend’s mother walked in on the teenagers engaging in consensual oral sex and called the police. Jason was arrested and charged with child molestation. He was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court and placed on the California Sex Offender Registry. Before he was old enough to drive, Jason was branded a sex offender on a public, searchable website.

New Yorker: The Shadow Penal System for Struggling Kids
The Christian organization Teen Challenge, made up of more than a thousand centers, claims to reform troubled teens. But is its discipline more like abuse? A Times investigation in 2015 found that religious-arbitration clauses, like the one used at Teen Challenge, have created “an alternate system of justice” that is often “impervious to legal challenges” and obstructs families not only from suing but from gathering facts. Teen Challenge has been in operation for more than sixty years, but there is little public record of what occurs in its facilities.

COVID-19 Surge In Corrections

Los Angeles Sentinel: Public Health Sees COVID-19 Outbreaks at Correctional Facilities
Public Health is investigating 19 ongoing outbreaks in correctional and law enforcement settings. At the end of September, 24, 434 new cases associated with correctional facility outbreaks were reported. A total of 7,732 cases were reported in county jail facilities: 5,962 among people who are incarcerated and 1,770 among staff.

Fox 31: COVID-19 outbreak doubles at Denver jail despite public health order
An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the two jails operated by the Denver Sheriff Department has only grown, despite measures demanded two weeks ago by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment. A website maintained by the City of and County of Denver showed the outbreak grew from 65 cases on Sept. 22, to 159 combined cases on Oct. 4, between the DDC on Colfax Avenue and the Denver County Jail on Smith Road.

Bakersfield.com: Virus wanes in Miami jails but still takes a toll: 3 officers, 2 inmates just died of COVID
Three Miami-Dade corrections officers and two inmates have died of complications of COVID-19 in recent days. As with correctional facilities across the country, Miami-Dade jails — with an ever-fluctuating population living in cramped quarters — have struggled with COVID-19 outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic. During the summer delta surge, the jails were hit hard. At one point in late August, there were 188 inmates who’d tested positive, plus 136 employees who had to be quarantined.

yahoo news!: Jail problems nearly boil over after Cumberland County declares emergency
Cumberland County (NJ) declared an emergency at the jail, which it had never done before. Union leaders say the crisis is the result of years of neglect of the workforce, brought to a head by the outbreak that began when four unvaccinated medical workers came to the jail to work. According to spokespeople from the state Department of Health and Human Services and Armor Health, the medical contractor at the jail, they were not required to receive the vaccine like most every other medical worker in the state because jails are not considered health care facilities.

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Pennsylvania prison guard vaccinations increase after Wolf's mandate
The number of vaccinated state prison system employees has nearly doubled in the two months since Gov. Tom Wolf mandated vaccines or weekly testing to help contain the coronavirus, a policy prison guards unsuccessfully challenged in court. The Corrections Department said Friday more than 6,700 workers have now been vaccinated, nearly 43% of the total and an increase from about 3,600 in early August.

The Seattle Times: Vaccination rates rise at Washington Department of Corrections, other agencies in response to COVID-19 mandate
Gov. Jay Inslee’s order for 63,000 state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has drawn broad outcry from conservatives, large protests from state workers and legal challenges by employees who stand to lose their jobs under the mandate. But if Washington’s biggest agencies are any indication, state employees are largely complying with the mandate that they be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

COVIE-19 Mask Mandates

KERA News: Texas prison officials dropped mask mandates at some facilities. Worker deaths followed.
At least 13 staffers at Texas prisons and jails died last month, according to The Dallas Morning News. That’s more than than in the previous six months combined. And the increase in deaths came after state corrections officials loosened health and safety regulations in Texas lockups. The vaccination rates among prison staff are below 50% at this point. There are actually a higher percentage of inmates who are vaccinated in our state jails and prisons than prison workers.

Solitary Confinement

The Southern Illinoisan: ‘Unconstitutional’: Mental health access in Illinois prisons fails to meet standards
Five years after a class action lawsuit found Illinois’ mental health care for inmates in the Department of Corrections unconstitutional, an independent court monitor found that the same problems still exist. These include an inappropriate use of solitary confinement, failing to properly manage medication, failing to provide adequate treatment plans and extended “crisis watches.” A prisoner is placed in crisis watch when they are considered a threat to themselves. They are placed in a solitary cell, naked except for something called a “suicide smock” that they are meant to wear and sleep under.

Denver Post: Solitary confinement condemns many prisoners to long-term health issues
It’s a common paradox of solitary confinement, said Craig Haney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Instead of craving the company of others after release from social isolation, many former prisoners want just the opposite. Once released, either to the general prison population or to the outside world, they can face a suite of problems, like heart damage and depression. They’re often hypersensitive to light, sound, smell or touch

HeraldNet: Prison reform curbs some solitary confinement, but how much?
Washington has roughly 13,500 prisoners. One in 10 of those in solitary have “serious mental illness,” data show. And research has shown the psychological toll of isolation often haunts inmates long after they leave. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners prohibit “prolonged solitary ” — in excess of 15 consecutive days. Anything more than that is torture, the rules say. Last year, the state passed a law barring correctional facilities from holding children in solitary confinement.

Florida News Times: Cell captivity blames many prisoners for long-term health problems
Studies show that cell confinement (isolating prisoners for weeks, months, years, and sometimes decades) has devastating effects on their physical and mental health. When released to the general prison people or the outside world, they can face a series of problems such as heart damage and depression. They are often sensitive to light, sound, smell, or touch. Many advocates believe the numbers are underestimated, but prior to the pandemic, the estimated number of people in prison cells in the United States ranged from 50,000 to 80,000 on certain days.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board reviews de-escalation training, upcoming bans on inmate restriction and confinement
The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board sought answers for how the jail would handle bans on solitary confinement and restraints, which go into effect this December. Board members raised questions to Warden Orlando Harper about how his jail plans to navigate the solitary confinement ban that was passed in a ballot referendum. Councilwoman Bethany Hallam raised concerns over how the jail reports solitary confinement to board members. She said in June the jail stopped providing reports that provided the total days an inmate had spent in solitary confinement.

MetroWeekly: Federal court allows trans inmate’s lawsuit against D.C. Department of Corrections to move forward
A federal court has denied a preliminary injunction and class certification in a lawsuit brought by a former prisoner in the D.C. Jail arguing that the D.C. Department of Corrections’ policy for housing transgender inmates is unconstitutional. However, the court is allowing the lawsuit to proceed. On Thursday, Judge John Bates, of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, denied Sunday Hinton’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the Department of Corrections from enforcing its policy, which requires transgender individuals to be placed in solitary confinement.

Rikers Island

New York Times: Inside Rikers: Dysfunction, Lawlessness and Detainees in Control
Much has been made of the crisis gripping Rikers, New York City’s main jail complex — the pandemic and a subsequent staffing emergency have taken a brutal toll on incarcerated people and jailers alike — but the sheer lawlessness inside the compound is difficult to fathom. Detainees in some buildings have seized near total control over entire units, deciding who can enter and leave them. In other buildings, they have wandered in and out of staff break rooms and similarly restricted areas, with some flouting rules against smoking tobacco and marijuana. Sometimes they have answered phones that were supposed to be manned by guards.

The Washington Post: Closing Rikers Island is a matter of life and death
With an incarceration system giving priority to punishment over rehabilitation, the United States has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world: more than ¾ of released prisoners are arrested again within five years. This untenable situation demands an immediate end to the Rikers crisis, and systemic change to reform the United States’s criminal justice system. Disorder has so overtaken the complex that closing Rikers is now a matter of life or death.

Daily News: Rikers inmates tended to detainee stabbed in eye because correction officers were AWOL: suit
A Rikers Island inmate stabbed in the eye was taken to an infirmary for medical treatment by other inmates — because correction officers were nowhere to be found, according to a new lawsuit filed Monday. The lawsuit brought by Rikers Island inmates demands that the Department of Correction provide prisoners with urgent medical care. If the agency can’t do so, it seeks a court order requiring officials to release the most vulnerable detainees from custody. nmates were somehow able to find keys to open the cell door of the detainee with the stab wound to the eye, according to the suit, highlighting the egregious security breakdowns at the troubled jail complex.

Pregnancy and Incarceration

California Health Report: Pregnant Behind Bars: When Housing Changes Everything
Every few days, the obstetrics team inside Los Angeles County’s main women’s lockup, the Century Regional Detention Facility, sends the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) a roster of pregnant people currently held in the facility. One such program, the Maternal Health Diversion Program, added to the ODR line-up in 2018, is focused on reducing the incarceration of the county’s pregnant people.

WUFT: Incarcerated woman is broadcasting Lowell prison conditions on TikTok
Keiko Kopp reports on Lowell Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in Ocala with a fraught history. Lowell gained attention in 2019, when guards so severely beat Cheryl Weimar that she was left quadriplegic. In December, a Department of Justice report found the Florida Department of Corrections had been aware of, yet failed to prevent, ongoing sexual abuse at Lowell for over a decade. Unlike those on the outside trying to learn what’s happening behind Lowell’s walls, Kopp reports from the inside, where she’s serving a three-year sentence.

New Jail Construction

The Times-Picayune: New Orleans planning commission staff recommends approval of controversial Phase III jail facility
The New Orleans City Planning Commission’s staff has recommended approving zoning changes which would allow for the construction of a controversial New Orleans jail facility. The city prefers an alternative, such as repurposing part of the existing jail building to serve as a medical and mental health unit. Many criminal justice reform organizations have long opposed expanding the jail’s footprint.

The Oklahoman: Multi-million dollar Oklahoma County jail options presented, citizens call for community investment
Architectural consultants hired by the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council shared two multimillion-dollar options for the future of the Oklahoma County Jail in a meeting Thursday evening as citizens called for investments in social services instead. Some citizens, still frustrated with what they view as a lack of overall progress, called Thursday's meeting a sales pitch rather than a listening session. Many residents citied concerns that building a new, possibly bigger, jail would just lead to county officials trying to fill it, recreating the same conditions that exist in the current jail.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

The Crime Report: Feds Announce $33M in Grants for Community Policing
The federal government has approved grants of more than $33 million on police training on how to de-escalate violent incidents and expand the use of civilians in mental health calls, as part of a new round of funding for community policing. The funding will pump new energy into a program that many observers expected to be abandoned during the previous administration. The administration’s announcement Wednesday represents a strong signal of support for reform efforts following the failure of a police reform bill in Congress last month.

WUSA: Montgomery County mental health court offers therapy over jail time
Montgomery County wants to get people some help instead of handcuffs with its Mental Health Court program. On Thursday, the state's attorney said 17 more people are graduating from its mental health program. How it works is when someone is arrested, if it's clear their crime stemmed from a mental health crisis and they meet other requirements, that person has an opportunity to receive therapy and other mental health support instead of a longer stay behind bars.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Fulton County considers diversion program to help mentally ill, drug addicts avoid jail
Fulton County leaders are considering a program they say will save taxpayers money and reduce crime by helping people more and jailing them less. The program would divert people having issues with mental health, substance abuse or homelessness, and get them services they need without costing time or precious space in Fulton’s over-crowded jail. The proposal would require $5 million a year to run — split between Fulton and Atlanta — and $2.3 million to retrofit the Atlanta jail.

InjusticeWatch: Cook County Public Defender’s Office seeks federal grant to expand its mental health services
The Cook County Public Defender’s Office wants to expand a special unit that connects defendants experiencing mental illness to housing, treatment, and other social services, while their attorneys fight for the best outcome in their cases. The office is currently seeking a federal grant for $800,000 over three years to expand its small team of three by adding up to five staff members, including psychologists, caseworkers, and mental health clinicians.

VT Digger: Burlington criminal justice leaders urge reform in response to repeat offenders
As Burlington is beginning to reevaluate its public safety system, George and others involved in Chittenden County’s criminal justice system are calling for change in the way the city of Burlington, and the state, help those who are habitual reoffenders in the criminal justice system. Some say there are specific reforms needed in both the Department of Mental Health and criminal statutes. “Until the Department of Mental Health fills the void, the criminal legal system will continue to try, and will continue to fail,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George. “These people need significant services, not jail.”

Private Prisons

Kansas City Star: For-profit Kansas prison an understaffed ‘hell hole’ of violence, death and drugs
For years, CoreCivic’s Leavenworth facility, which houses an average of 900 inmates at a time, has been dangerously understaffed. An audit in 2017 found that its officer vacancy rate, at one point, reached nearly 25%. Guards employed there as recently as July and September said the facility didn’t have enough officers to consistently staff “bubble” posts, where guards monitor pods from secure rooms so they can quickly call for help if an officer is attacked. A 2017 audit by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General found that, at one time, nearly one quarter of the facility’s correctional officer jobs were vacant. It couldn’t staff mandatory security posts.

VT Digger: Vermont extends contract to house incarcerated individuals in Mississippi
Vermont will continue to send some incarcerated people to an out-of-state prison. The Department of Corrections announced Tuesday a one-year renewal of its contract to house people it has no room for in Vermont at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi. The facility is run by CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison operators in the country. The contract renewal comes despite criticism leveled at CoreCivic from the head of the corrections department more than a year ago, when he stated he lost trust in the company.

Seeking Alpha: GEO Group, CoreCivic stocks climb as they replace federal prison contracts
GEO Group (NYSE:GEO) stock jumps 7.4% and CoreCivic (NYSE:CXW) stock gains 3.5% after the Wall Street Journal reports that private prison operators are winning contracts from municipalities. That's helping to soften the blow from Biden administration's policy distance itself from privately owned prisons by not renewing their contracts. Still, GEO (GEO) and CoreCivic (CXW) are making money from federal inmates through three-way agreements known as intergovernmental agreements