Weekly Update: May 18, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: May 18, 2021

Highlighted Story

Yahoo Finance: ‘When America has a cold, Black America has pneumonia’: Tracie Gardner on opioid crisis’ disproportionate racial impact
In an interview, Tracie Gardner, Legal Action Center’s Vice President of Policy Advocacy discusses the role that race plays in opioid addiction --how drug use has been long associated with other people, i.e. not white people. The prescription painkiller epidemic made it clear that addiction can affect anyone. But its affect is not equal. A more holistic approach is needed and more providers who are willing and able to provide medications that help reduce the risk of people overdosing. And then in terms of treatment, we need to ask why people use drugs, rather than simply look at them as problems over the fact that they are using drugs.

New York Times: How a Genetic Trait in Black People Can Give the Police Cover
Medical examiners have used sickle cell trait to explain in-custody deaths. The trait has been cited in dozens of police custody deaths ruled accidental or natural, even though the condition is benign on its own. The Times reviewed thousands of pages of autopsy records, court filings and police reports. It examined data on suspicious deaths from more than 30 of the United States’ largest counties, whose jurisdictions cover nearly one in three Black Americans. As recently as August, lawyers for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted last month of murdering George Floyd, invoked sickle cell trait in an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case against him.

BuzzFeed News: Louisiana Bars Problem Doctors From Practicing Medicine In Most Hospitals. So They Treat Incarcerated People Instead.
Ten of the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ 12 physicians — including six medical directors and two assistant medical directors — have had their medical licenses restricted or suspended. Several were disciplined for illegally distributing drugs, two committed fraud, one engaged in sexual misconduct, and another former medical director pled guilty to possession of child pornography, according consent orders issued by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

CalMatters: Most prison staff refuse COVID vaccine — should California let them?
57% of California prison employees are skipping free COVID vaccinations offered on the job as of May 10, according to data from the California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Experts don’t think it’s common that those workers chose to be vaccinated anyplace less convenient. As California pursues herd immunity — or something close to it — some 37,000 state prison workers remain unvaccinated. In 30 of 35 institutions, less than half of employees are fully vaccinated. Currently, less than 3% of staff are waiting on their second jab, according to the statewide data.

COVID-19 Lockdown and Mental Health

Washington Post: D.C. jail to relax coronavirus restrictions, end nearly 24-hour daily lockdown
D.C. corrections officials will ease an array of coronavirus restrictions in the coming weeks and relax the nearly 24-hour confinement that inmates endured for more than a year. Beginning May 15 and through July, vaccinated inmates will see a resumption of activities that are in line with the city’s return to pre-pandemic openings, and the rolling back of some of the restrictions that jail officials said were needed to contain the spread of the coronavirus but that drew sharp criticism from lawmakers and allegations of human rights abuses.

Iowa Public Radio: Activists Call On State Leaders To Improve Iowa Prison Conditions
Activists in Des Moines are calling on state leaders to improve conditions in Iowa’s prisons, where more than 4,800 incarcerated individuals and 700 staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus and where extended lockdowns have significantly impacted the mental health of inmates. The organizers say they’ve been in contact with inmates and are sharing their concerns.


Health Affairs: As States Continue To Experiment In Medicaid, Look To Section 1115 Waiver Evaluations To Understand What Works
A small but growing number of states have sought Section 1115 demonstration waivers that include initiatives targeting justice-involved individuals, a population with complex health care and social needs. These waivers are among the tools available to states as they work to improve health, address disparities, and reduce recidivism among this population, particularly as individuals transition from jail or prison back into the community.

St Albans Messenger: ACLU, Vermont Legal Aid to school districts: Stop funding police with Medicaid funds
Citing Maple Run Unified School District as an example, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid sent a letter to the Agency of Education demanding that school police no longer be paid for with funds from school Medicaid Reinvestment Funds. The two groups said they recently learned that for at least the past two years, the agency has been approving the use of Medicaid Reinvestment Funds to foot the bill for a police presence in schools: during the 2019-2020 school year, MRUSD and North Country High School in the North Country Supervisory Union of Newport were approved to use at least portions of their MRF funding toward school-based police forces from local departments, according to the ACLU.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Prison Policy Initiative: Research Roundup: Incarceration can cause lasting damage to mental health
Disturbingly high numbers of people with mental health disorders are locked up in prisons and jails. But less attention is paid to the ways in which incarceration itself perpetuates this problem by creating and worsening symptoms of mental illness. Research shows that, while it varies from person to person, incarceration is linked to mood disorders including major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. The carceral environment can be inherently damaging to mental health by removing people from society and eliminating meaning and purpose from their lives.

Forbes: Born In Prison, How One Woman Used Her Trauma To Write The Post Traumatic Prison Disorder Act
Shawanna Vaughn is the founder and director of Silent Cry, Inc., a Harlem-based nonprofit organization that takes a holistic approach to aftercare from mass incarceration, gun violence and trauma. Seeing a gap in critical services and mental health support for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people like herself, Vaughn penned her own rights into a bill, the Post Traumatic Prison Disorder Act Shawanna W76337, which has since been introduced in the New York State Senate.

The Crime Report: The Mental Health Risks of Secondhand Exposure to Police Violence
In 1986, the Surgeon General released a report entitled The Health Consequences of Involuntary Smoking, concluding that secondhand smoke was a major health risk to nonsmokers. We are now learning something similar about the long-term mental health risks of secondhand exposure to police violence, especially for children of color. A study released this month, entitled Unpacking Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Emotional Distress Among Adolescents During Witnessed Police Stops (lead author Dylan Jackson of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health), examined the racial differences in distress levels among Black, white, and Latinx young people, born between 1998 and 2000, living in urban areas who witnessed—but were not themselves subjected to―police stops.

New York Times: Video Footage of Death of Black Man in South Carolina Jail Stirs Outrage
The death of a Black man after police used pepper spray and Tasers on him in a South Carolina jail has stirred outrage as well as widespread calls for changes to the treatment of people in custody suffering from mental illness. Elements of the videos — including a moment when Mr. Sutherland, who has an officer’s knee on his back, says “I can’t breathe” — echo other recent instances of violent encounters between law enforcement and African-Americans.

ABC News: Videos show detail of death of inmate at South Carolina jail
In newly released video of the January death of a South Carolina inmate with mental health issues, deputies are seen repeatedly deploying stun guns and kneeling on the man's back before he stops moving. An hour later, officials said, the man was pronounced dead. The Charleston County authorities released dozens of video clips related to the death of Jamal Sutherland, a 31-year-old Black man booked into the jail on Jan. 4. In a news conference, an attorney for the Sutherland family said that Sutherland’s schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were so severe he should never have been held in a nonmedical portion of the jail, and that the videos portrayed a “use of force that was so unnecessary and excessive that there are no words." He said that the family is pursuing civil litigation.

Mental Health Initiatives and Public Safety

South Bend Tribune: Faith group wants change to police handling of mental health emergencies in South Bend area
The South Bend area could soon get a mobile response unit and crisis response center to assist those dealing with mental health emergencies and potentially replace the police's involvement in such crises. The leaders of the city of South Bend, the sheriff's department and the St. Joseph County Commission came out Sunday saying they all support a faith group's call to use some of the federal American Recovery Act money the city and county receives for this kind of enhanced mental health services for residents here.

Opioid Epidemic and Treatments

NASHP: Opioid Use Disorder Treatment: How Vermont Integrated its Community Treatment Standards into its State Prisons
The opioid epidemic has resulted in the incarceration of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) for drug-related crimes. When incarcerated without access to treatment, people with OUD undergo forced abstinence from substance use, which reduces tolerance and increases their risk of overdose death following release. Recognizing these challenges, Vermont extended its statewide Hub and Spoke treatment model into its corrections system to provide best OUD treatment practices, which includes medication-assisted treatment.

Public Source: Addiction medication at Allegheny County Jail could save lives. Advocates say little has been done as local overdoses rise.
Allegheny County (PA), which historically has limited medication-assisted drug treatment to pregnant women, says it has been working for the last two years to implement a broader program. Currently, nine people in jail are receiving Suboxone, including one pregnant woman, and 16 people are being treated with naltrexone, a drug that inhibits desire for opioids but doesn’t have an opiate effect like Suboxone. Drug-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder is “the gold standard” for treatment in the industry, according to a variety of experts who work to help people with addiction. In 2017, county health officials recommended that the jail adopt the treatment, because of evidence that it reduces drug use, overdoses, crime and infectious diseases.

San Francisco Chronicle: Many San Franciscans in jail struggle with addiction. Would this polarizing treatment option help them?
In San Francisco, where drug overdoses killed more than three times as many people as COVID-19 last year, advocates and officials all demand change, but sometimes disagree on the best solution. The city practices harm reduction, investing in reducing overdose risks and increasing housing, mental health and drug treatment. But some frustrated people in recovery are pushing for more options, especially total-abstinence treatment where the goal is ending drug use without medication. It’s a model questioned by some experts and criticized by harm reduction advocates, but one that helped them get clean.

Solitary Confinement

WNYT 13: Correctional officers union suing Cuomo, NY state over solitary confinement law
The union representing New York's correctional officers says it's filing a civil rights lawsuit against the state and Gov. Cuomo. In this lawsuit, NYSCOPBA is really calling for one thing in particular, the repeal of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. It limits the amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement to 15 days, and exempts certain populations like young people or elderly inmates from solitary confinement altogether. NYSCOPBA officials say they've seen a rise in assaults against correctional officers and other inmates, and they argue this law, which will take effect next April, makes things more dangerous. But the reality is that HALT doesn’t take effect for a whole year, and the laws and regulations currently in effect, which allow DOCCS to keep people in solitary for months, years, and even decades, have not prevented the violence NYSCOPBA

Correctional Healthcare Vendors

AP: Indiana sees big cost jump with new prison medical contract
Indiana could pay about 50% more a year for prison medical services with a new contractor picked by state officials. The four-year contract with Centurion Health will pay an average of about $160 million a year to the company that submitted the most expensive of four vendor proposals. Wexford of Indiana LLC, received a three-year contract for $309 million in 2017 and was given a one-year, $116 million extension. Centurion’s contract, which is scheduled to be finalized by July 1, is for $643 million over four years. Centurion, a subsidiary of Missouri-based Centene Corp., is facing a controversy in Tennessee, where state prison officials are going to rebid a $123 million contract the company received for behavioral health services after a lawsuit accused a state official of rigging the bidding process.

Legal Reader: Family of 18-Year Old Inmate Sues Fulton County Jail and Health Care Provider
The family of an 18-year old who died in a Fulton County, Georgia, jail has filed a lawsuit against the facility’s health care provider, NaphCare, claiming the high school student’s death could have been prevented. Tyrique Jameal Tookes was found dead in his cell in Full County Jail on May 4, 2019. While Tookes seemed in good health when he was booked into Fulton on March 8, he began experiencing severe chest pain several weeks later. On April 27, Tookes was examined in the jail’s medical center after complaining of chest tightness, “constant intense aching pain,” and heart palpitations. Although Tookes himself rated the pain as a “ten out of ten,” in terms of severity, a physician investigated his case as one of possible heartburn. Tooke was then given ice packs and Ibuprofen, with instructions to return to the health clinic if he had any further problems.

Waco-Tribune Herald: Former McLennan County inmate alleges mistreatment in federal suit
A former McLennan County Jail inmate with a long history of mental illness who claims he was sexually assaulted by another inmate has filed a federal civil rights and medical malpractice lawsuit against the county. The suit also names as defendants CorrHealth, the company contracted to operate the county jail’s medical facilities. The former inmate's request for his medications and mental health treatment were ignored, the suit alleges. His reports that he was receiving threats from another inmate also were ignored, leading to him being sexually assaulted by the inmate.