Weekly Update: August 23, 2022

COCHS Weekly Update: August 23, 2022

Highlighted Stories

Health Affairs: The Impact Of COVID-19 On The Health Of Incarcerated Older Adults In California State Prisons
The number of older adults (age fifty-five or older) incarcerated in US prisons reached an all-time high just as COVID-19 entered correctional facilities in 2020. However, little is known about COVID-19’s impact on incarcerated older adults. We compared COVID-19 outcomes between older and younger adults in California state prisons from March 1, 2020, to October 9, 2021. The differential rates of morbidity and mortality experienced by incarcerated older adults should be considered in future pandemic response strategies regarding prisons.

The Guardian: New York’s ageing prisoners languish with poor medical care and little hope
Elderly people who are incarcerated, particularly women, have higher rates of co-morbidities that can have serious health consequences. Despite having a lower chance of recidivism, with reoffending rates declining as people age, many people over the age of 55 remain imprisoned in New York prison system into old age. As of 2016, 10,140 people over the age of 50 were incarcerated in New York, almost 20% of the overall state prison system and a stark increase from the previous decade.

KFF: Medicaid Waiver Tracker: Approved and Pending Section 1115 Waivers by State
This page tracks approved and pending Section 1115 Medicaid demonstration waivers, which offer states an avenue to test new approaches in Medicaid that differ from what is required by federal statute. Key themes in current approved and pending waivers include targeted eligibility expansions, benefit expansions (particularly in the area of behavioral health, such as coverage of services provided in IMDs), and provisions related to social determinants of health.

The Hill: We have an obligation to treat substance abuse in jails and prisons
As the U.S. confronts an unprecedented surge in overdose deaths to a record 108,000 last year, a shadow epidemic receiving far less attention is causing a spike in fatalities in our nation’s prisons and jails. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the alcohol and drug overdose death rate in prisons increased fivefold from 2009 to 2019, outpacing the national drug overdose rate, which tripled in the same period.

New York Times: The Two Simple Edicts of Successful Addiction Treatment
We are a nation that, a quarter-century into the worst addiction crisis in U.S. history, still makes death, incarceration and buying dope far easier to achieve than evidence-based treatment. Since the introduction of OxyContin in 1996, more than a million Americans have died of a drug overdose, including a record of nearly 108,000 Americans last year alone. A crew of underfinanced, ultra-motivated addiction fighters have been able to make strides and fill treatment gaps with lifesaving medicines and harm reduction supplies like clean syringes and fentanyl test strips to the most marginalized in their communities. Harm reduction isn’t harm eradication, but it works to prevent the spread of H.I.V. and hepatitis C and to prevent overdose deaths — and the government should acknowledge its efficacy.

PEW: How State Legislatures Can Pass Effective Policies on Substance Use Disorder
Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton), chairman of the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee—who, earlier this year, introduced a bill to establish a county-based pilot program to direct low-level offenders to OUD treatment instead of treating the condition like a crime. The bill, which takes the critical step of ensuring that people are diverted from the criminal justice system based on medical assessments—and collects data so that this approach is applied equitably—passed with near-unanimous support, and Governor Andy Beshear (D) signed it into law on April 20.

The Cortland Voice: County Sheriff Plans Expanded Medication-Assisted Treatment at Correctional Facility
County Legislators unanimously approved a budget increase for the Cortland County Correctional Facility’s medical staff at Tuesday’s Judiciary and Public Safety committee meeting, paving the way toward the implementation of a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. The program will soon be mandated by New York state, according to Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms, and would make available medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) for incarcerated people who need it.

NY1: New data highlights overdose crisis at Rikers
New data from the city’s jails show hundreds of overdoses or suspected overdoses have occurred on Rikers Island in the last year and half — further evidence of the drug problem plaguing the city's massive jails complex. NY1 obtained data from Correctional Health Services, which provides medical care on Rikers, revealing that between January 2021 and June 2022, there were at least 431 overdoses or suspected overdoses in city jails.

New York Times: Woman Charged With Murder, Accused of Passing Drugs in Prison With a Kiss
A woman has been charged with murder after she sneaked a small balloon filled with methamphetamine into a Tennessee prison and, via a kiss, gave it to her incarcerated boyfriend who later died of an overdose. The case came as prosecutors across the country increasingly treat overdose deaths as homicides, using laws devised to go after drug dealers to now charge friends and partners, and hold someone criminally accountable.

The Crime Report: Public Safety Requires Justice Reform
Justice reform and public safety are “not opposite ends of a spectrum,” but are mutually dependent, according to a series of papers commissioned by Arnold Ventures. The papers, written by eight of the country’s leading criminologists, were commissioned in an effort to address an increasingly polarized political climate, in which rising violent crime rates are now attributed to the relaxation of hardline sentencing and punishment strategies in many jurisdictions.

Jail/Prison Conditions

KGW: Wyden, Merkley letter to federal prisons boss seeks clarity on conditions at Oregon prison
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley wrote to Colette Peters, formerly the head of Oregon’s Department of Corrections and now federal prison director, demanding an update and answers to questions. “We are concerned about recent press reports that there has been retaliation and violence against inmates at FCI Sheridan for speaking out about their experiences regarding unaddressed medical needs; small cell confinement; and limited access to family and lawyers as a result of the pandemic,” Wyden and Merkley wrote.

NM Political Report: A crisis looms at New Mexico’s largest jail, plagued by understaffing — and unsafe conditions
In Albuquerque, the Metropolitan Detention Center's long hallways are lined with heaping piles of trash; there aren’t enough guards or custodial staff on hand to remove them. Many of the 1,400 inmates are confined to their cells for up to four days in a row, with no time allowed for a walk in the yard or an opportunity to make a phone call. Most everyone blames the current situation on understaffing, which is said to be at 50 percent of capacity.

NPR: Few rules address extreme heat problem in prisons
For correctional facilities that remain open, extreme heat is a major challenge. That's because many of these facilities are old and lack air conditioning, exposing prisoners to dangerous temperatures. With the exception of some county jails and federal medical units, there are few rules for maximum temperatures in cells.

Chicago Sun Times: Illinois is failing to provide adequate health care for prisoners
Last week, the Illinois prison system was held in contempt by a federal judge for failing to deliver a satisfactory implementation plan for addressing the abysmal physical health care provided to Illinois Department of Corrections inmates. The state committed itself to change by entering into a consent decree in the Lippert vs. Jeffreys class action lawsuit on prison medical care in 2018, but an acceptable plan to provide such care has never been submitted to the court.

The Appeal: Calls for Action After Reports of Inedible Food at Virginia Prison
Politicians are demanding greater oversight over the Virginia Department of Corrections, following The Appeal’s report that women at one state prison say they’re served moldy and spoiled food. Women incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) have told The Appeal that they’ve found bugs in their food and on their trays, that portions are “toddler-size,” and that they’re served food that is inedible.

San Diego

San Diego Union Tribune: People keep dying in San Diego jails. It’s time for county supervisors to be more involved.
Last year, a record 18 San Diego County jail inmates died in custody. This year, 16 have already, suggesting a terrible new mark could be set before San Diegans elect a new sheriff in the Nov. 8 election. The failure of such a basic function of jails — to keep people in custody alive — is so catastrophic that a lawyer argued in a federal courtroom last week that people will keep dying unless the Sheriff’s Department makes immediate improvements to mental health care, addiction treatment and security, especially as it relates to drugs that are being brought into jails, leading to accidental overdoses.

Times of San Diego: Judge Denies Injunction Request in Lawsuit Filed Over Alleged High County Jail Death Rate
A federal judge Monday denied a request from attorneys representing people incarcerated in San Diego County’s jails to make immediate changes to the region’s jail policies in order to curb deaths among those behind bars. The ruling stems from a lawsuit alleging the county’s policies and procedures are insufficient to protect inmates and contribute to what the attorneys allege is a higher jail death rate than other large California counties and the nation at large. Attorneys representing inmates say 18 people died in the county’s jails last year, and that mark was on pace to be exceeded in 2022.

Nurseries In Corrections

Columbia Missourian: Prison nursery in the works at Vandalia corrections facility
In a strong bipartisan vote, lawmakers rallied behind a proposal to create a prison nursery that would allow incarcerated mothers to stay with their newborns for up to 18 months. As the prison nursery program went from an idea to law this spring, lobbyists and lawmakers alike applauded the work of Missouri Department of Corrections staff. Prison nurseries aim to improve mental and physical health outcomes for mothers and babies, as well as reduce recidivism. Results from similar programs in other states — including Indiana, New York, Ohio, and Illinois — show they are largely successful.


KUER: Efforts are underway to create a new prison college degree program in Utah
The University of Utah’s Prison Education Project hopes to launch a new degree program in the fall of 2023. It would be the first in Utah in over a decade, following a small, but growing list of universities expanding higher education to incarcerated people across the country. The degree itself would be in something like communications or undergraduate studies, he said. It would cover a range of courses to equip students with fundamental skills like writing, critical thinking and leadership.

New York Times: Reading While Incarcerated Saved Me. So Why Are Prisons Banning Books?
Books, like everything an incarcerated person receives — personal mail, emails, photos, news and education materials — are evaluated by prison officials and rejected or shared with us. Corrections departments typically claim they ban books that contain sexual content, racial animus or depictions of violence, criminal activity, anti-authority attitudes or escape. A Colorado prison officials blocked a prisoner from reading two of President Barack Obama’s memoirs because they were “potentially detrimental to national security,” although they later reversed that decision. Claiming such bans are necessary for the safety and security of prisons seems ludicrous.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: CDCR secure laptops project
As part of its mission to facilitate the successful reintegration of individuals back to the community with the tools to be drug-free, healthy, and employable members of society, CDCR is preparing to deploy 30,000 secure laptops to incarcerated students taking part in educational programs. The laptops will contain standard computer programs that incarcerated students use on classroom desktop computers today. This includes Microsoft Word, Excel, and other Office apps. It will also include preloaded bookmarks to approved Internet sites, and a link to the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) Learning Network, where students will access learning tools and resources.


NYC Health + Hospitals: New Housing for Formerly Incarcerated People Needing Ongoing Specialty Care
NYC Health + Hospitals and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) today announced Just Home, a project to house New Yorkers with complex medical needs after they leave jail. Patients with medical needs such as congestive heart failure, stage 4 cancer, and end-stage renal disease which make placement in the City’s homeless shelters unfeasible will be eligible for this program. The project will also offer much needed affordable housing.

AP News: Western fires outpace California effort to fill inmate crews
As wildfires rage across California each year, exhausted firefighters call for reinforcements from wherever they can get them — even as far as Australia. Yet one homegrown resource is rarely used: thousands of experienced firefighters who earned their chops in prison. Two state programs designed to get more former inmate firefighters hired professionally have barely made a dent. Once freed from prison, however, the former inmates have trouble getting hired professionally because of their criminal records, despite a first-in-the-nation, 18-month-old law designed to ease their way and a 4-year-old training program that cost taxpayers at least $180,000 per graduate.

US News & World Report: Reincarceration Order Dropped for 18 Minnesotans
The Minnesota Department of Corrections has dropped its order that 18 prisoners who were released from prison to protect their health during the coronavirus pandemic report back to prison. The state had ordered the 18 to return to prison by Monday. But, a Ramsey County judge has granted a temporary restraining order, saying that reincarcerating the individuals could still be detrimental to their health.

Star Press: Reentry support program meant to change lives of jail inmates once they're freed
In Delaware County, Indiana, peer coaches work with inmates while the offender is still serving their term behind bars. The coaches, who have been through the criminal justice system themselves, help assess an inmate, determine a pathway for them and prepare them to re-enter life outside incarceration. Since the Integrated Reentry and Correctional Support program started in the county, 14 inmate-participants have been released. The peer coaches continue to "walk along beside them" and stay involved with providing support for at least 30 days after release.

New Prison Construction

FOX 13: Families raise serious concerns six weeks into new $1 billion state prison
Just six weeks after nearly 2,500 prisoners were moved from the old prison in Draper to the new prison in Salt Lake City, inmates' health and safety are at risk, family members and friends told FOX 13 NewsIn a legislative hearing Tuesday, Brian Nielson, Executive Director of UDC, blamed problems on staffing; the prison is currently operating with 60 percent of the staff that’s needed, and officers who are on the job are clocking in anywhere from 60 to 80 hour-weeks. The Utah Prisoner Advocate Network believes the state needs to be giving mosquito repellent to inmates, knowing they built the facility on wetlands.

Mental Health Initiatives In Corrections

News 1: Worcester County Jail programming seeks to break cycle of generational incarceration
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis said around 80% of the inmates in the county jail have substance misuse issues. The family visitation area is just the latest in a series of investments made to target the co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental health that typically underline criminal behavior. In June 2021, the jail added a $25 million facility at the prison campus, allowing for better health capabilities and mental health assessments while doubling the jail’s mental health staff.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Brennan Center: How to Lower the High Level of Jail Suicides
Jail suicides have been an overlooked national crisis for years. America needs to start learning from them in order to address the underlying problems that are causing so much needless death. These unnecessary losses of life are troubling but not rare. According to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics report, suicides were the leading cause of jail deaths between 2000 and 2019, totaling 6,217 — 30 percent of all deaths in local jails. In 2019, the suicide rate in jails was over two times that of the general public.

Montgomery Advertiser: Man begged for mental health care, told guards he was suicidal before his death
Court documents from an ongoing lawsuit from 2014 expose severe deficiencies in mental health care in Fountain and throughout the ADOC. Plaintiffs in Braggs, et al. v. Dunn, et al. allege that ADOC “systemically puts the health and lives of prisoners at risk by ignoring their medical and mental health needs and discriminating against prisoners with disabilities.” In the eight years since that lawsuit was filed, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama has issued damning opinions of ADOC practices and ordered the department to improve staffing levels and access to mental health care for prisoners.

Private Prisons

AZ Central: Private prison maintenance workers on strike over wages, safety concerns
Maintenance workers at a private prison run by CoreCivic in Florence are on strike over wages and safety concerns. Workers at the Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex voted to unionize in March despite claims of CoreCivic attempting to thwart the effort. Seventeen maintenance workers joined the UA Local 469 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union after a vote with the National Labor Relations Board. In addition to a wage increase, the workers are asking CoreCivic to address safety issues at the prison. They claim a part of the fire system that pull smoke out of the buildings, the exhaust fans, haven't worked for a year.

Correctional Health Care Providers

Lake County Record Bee: Complaints of poor healthcare at county correctional facility
The Lake County Civil Grand Jury reviewed and discussed the health of Lake County inmates at the Lake County Correctional Facility in their 2021-22 Final Report titled “Confinement During a Pandemic: A Report on Inmate Health.” In this review they uncover changes made, specifically in behavioral health treatments, that have negatively affected proper treatment of inmates with mental health disorders. As of July 2019, the Lake County Correctional Facility contracted the California Forensic Medical Group for medical, behavioral and dental care for inmates. According to the Grand Jury in 2020, CFMG became an affiliate of Wellpath.

Yahoo News: Family of Bucks man who died in jail to receive $1M in settlement with county, medical provider
The family of a Bucks County man who died less than a day after he was incarcerated in Bucks County Correctional Center has been awarded more than $1 million in a recently approved settlement. It's the largest payout from Bucks County in nearly a decade. PrimeCare Medical, the county contracted medical provider for the jail, will pay the remaining $750,000, according to court documents. At the same meeting, the commissioners approved two contracts totaling $210,660 with PrimeCare Medical to provide services and programming related to medication-assisted treatment for inmates with substance abuse disorder.