Weekly Update: September 14, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: September 14, 2021

Highlighted Stories

ONDCP: Letter to Congressional Leaders
In a September 2nd letter to congressional leaders, Regina M. LaBelle, Acting Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy writes: We look forward to working with Congress to advance policies that will expand access and remove barriers to evidence-based treatment, including medication for opioid use disorder and contingency management interventions. We also welcome legislative efforts to allow states to seek reimbursement for Medicaid-eligible individuals prior to reentry, thereby increasing access to treatment during incarceration and reducing the risk of overdose death upon reentry.

AMA: Letter to Congressional Leaders
In an August 30th letter to congressional leaders, James L. Madara, MD, CEO of the American Medical Association, writes: The AMA has voiced its support for the Medicaid Reentry Act.7, 8 This important bill would provide states with the flexibility to allow Medicaid payment for medical services furnished to an incarcerated individual during the 30-day period preceding the individual’s release. Such coverage is critical to help start treatment for individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) before they are released back to civilian life.

Addiction Policy Forum: Take Action Today to Support the Medicaid Reentry Act
The Medicaid Reentry Act is currently being reviewed as a potential policy add-on in the upcoming budget reconciliation package before Congress. It is vital to contact your Member of Congress to express your support for this legislation and expand access to addiction treatment and other health services for those leaving jail or prison.

JAMA Network Open: Association of Jail Decarceration and Anticontagion Policies With COVID-19 Case Growth Rates in US Counties
A new study from researchers at Northwestern University and the World Bank found that millions of Covid-19 cases and tens of thousands of deaths could have been prevented by reducing jail populations. Jails and prisons in the U.S. have acted as “infectious disease incubators” during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a summary of the study from Northwestern. Due to overcrowded conditions in which social distancing is impossible, inadequate healthcare, and lack of access to supplies like soap and masks, more than 661,000 incarcerated people and staff have been infected with coronavirus.

MACPAC: Health Care Needs of Adults Involved with the Criminal Justice System
In this issue brief MACPAC examines statistics involving Medicaid and justice involved people: While Medicaid’s role is limited with respect to those who are incarcerated, it plays an important role in the treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders (SUD) for adults under community supervision. This issue brief uses five years (2015 – 2019) of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to analyze the treatment needs and access to behavioral health services for adults age 18–65 who reported that they were under community supervision in the past 12 months.2 Specifically, our analysis examines selected demographic and health characteristics, and prevalence and treatment rates for behavioral health conditions among these adults, comparing the experience of adults with Medicaid to adults with other forms of coverage.

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

This Is Reno: Board of Health approves vaccine mandate for prison staff, state health workers
In order to prevent COVID-19 from surging at prisons and state-licensed health facilities, the Nevada Board of Health voted Friday to mandate employees at those facilities get vaccinated. Only four of the six board members were present Friday, but they voted unanimously to require Nevada Department of Corrections’ staff and state health workers to become fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, allowing for religious and medical exemptions.

Los Angeles Daily News: OC sheriff reminds jail workers of vaccine mandate as union opposes
Orange County Sheriff’s Department employees who work in jails where health care is provided must be fully vaccinated or submit a form requesting exemption due to religious or medical reasons by Oct. 14, according to a statewide health order released last month. In a memo sent to all employees Tuesday, Sept. 7, Sheriff Don Barnes reiterated the Aug. 19 order, which he said applies to all deputies and their supervisors who work in the Men’s and Women’s Central Jails, the Inmate Reception Center and the Theo Lacy Facility. He also stressed the importance of adhering to the order.

Challenging COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

ABC KCRG.com: Iowa Sheriff says he will not mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees
The sheriff of a northwest Iowa county said he will not mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees at his office. Woodbury County Sheriff Chad Sheehan made the announcement after President Joe Biden laid out a six-step strategy to combat COVID-19, including a new vaccine mandate for nearly 100-million Americans. “I was elected by the citizens of Woodbury County to defend their freedoms and liberties guaranteed in the constitution of the United States,” Sheriff Sheehan said in a press release.

Southeast Missourian: BoCo sheriff: Won't enforce federal virus order
The sheriff of Bollinger County, Missouri, announced Friday neither he nor department employees will enforce any of the executive actions announced Thursday by President Joe Biden in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Bollinger County Sheriff Casey Graham posted a memo on social media decrying governmental "overreach." "Yesterday we witnessed an unbelievable tyrannical executive action by President Joe Biden. I assure you, that as your Sheriff, I, along with my Office, will NEVER enforce such mandates by our Federal Government".

ABC 13: Brazoria County Sheriff won't require employees to get COVID vaccine despite federal mandate
As Texas and the United States continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, more elected leaders are lashing out at President Joe Biden's plan to require some businesses and all federal government employees to be vaccinated against the virus. Add Brazoria County Sheriff Bo Stallman to that list. In a letter to sheriff's office employees Saturday, Stallman said he would not require them to adhere to any vaccine mandate, calling it an attempt to infringe on individual freedoms.

AP: Prison guards union asks court to review vax-or-test mandate
The union that represents corrections officers in Pennsylvania prisons wants a state court to intervene over the governor’s recent mandate that they all get coronavirus vaccines or submit to weekly testing. The six-page Commonwealth Court complaint over a rule Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced last month requests that the court issue a preliminary injunction to end mandatory testing unless inmates, visitors and outside vendors are also subject to the requirement.

COVID-19 in Corrections

Prison Policy Initiative: States of emergency: The failure of prison system responses to COVID-19
From the beginning of the pandemic, it was clear that densely packed prisons and jails — the result of decades of mass incarceration in the U.S. — presented dangerous conditions for the transmission of COVID-19. More than a year later, the virus has claimed more than 2,700 lives behind bars and infected 1 out of every 3 people in prison. A year after we first graded state responses to COVID-19 in prisons, most state departments of corrections and the federal Bureau of Prisons are still failing on even the simplest measures of mitigation.

State of Reform: Washington Department of Corrections receives failing grade for COVID-19 prison response
The Washington State Department of Corrections received a “failing” grade for its response to COVID-19, according to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative. The report compiled data and evaluated pandemic responses in prison systems from all 50 states, evaluating them on four categories related to the state’s efforts to limit transmission of COVID-19 and protect incarcerated populations. In the population reduction category, Washington scored 72 out of 130 points. The prison population reduction rate in the state, between March 2020 and July 2021, was only 18.5%.

VT Digger: Covid-19 cases reported at Springfield and St. Albans prisons
More Covid-19 cases have been reported in Vermont’s prisons, including new cases at the Springfield prison and St. Albans correctional center. Two incarcerated individuals at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans have tested positive for the coronavirus, Rachel Feldman, a state Department of Corrections spokesperson reported. Newport has been the site of an outbreak that has resulted in 39 Covid-19 cases so far, including 32 among incarcerated individuals and seven among staff.

Sacramento Bee: Yolo County Sheriff’s Office reports first COVID-19 outbreak among jail inmates
The Yolo County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday announced an outbreak of COVID-19 at its jail, the first time since the pandemic began last year that coronavirus has spread to the inmate population housed in Woodland. On Tuesday, an inmate became ill and tested positive for COVID-19, according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office. All other inmates, except those who refused, were immediately tested.

COVID-19 Testing in Corrections

KPIX 5: Sonoma County Health Order Requires Jail Inmates To Test For COVID-19 Upon Entry
Under the new health order, which takes effect on Oct. 1, all inmates at detention facilities in Sonoma County, including juvenile hall, are to be tested regardless of their vaccination status. Under the new health order, which takes effect on Oct. 1, all inmates at detention facilities in Sonoma County, including juvenile hall, are to be tested regardless of their vaccination status.

COVID-19 Voices of the Incarcerated

Washington Post: A San Quentin covid-19 survivor reflects and looks forward
In an opinion piece, Joe Garcia incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, where he is a reporter for the San Quentin News, writes: In May 2020, a rushed transfer of 122 prisoners from the California Institute for Men blasted covid-19 into San Quentin, sparking a firestorm that infected more than 2,000 of us, including me, by the end of July — and killed 28 of my incarcerated peers. Just like that, it happened. We’d been safe for months — until suddenly we weren’t. But the pandemic lens focused sharp images of San Quentin’s rampant overcrowding on the public consciousness. And so, to combat the viral spread, the administration finally allowed many of us to live and breathe alone inside our 4-and-a-half-by-11-foot cells.

COVID-19 Riversing Releases?

NBC: Thousands were released from prison because of Covid. Will they have to return?
Dozens of advocacy groups have called upon President Joe Biden to exercise his broad presidential powers and commute the inmates’ sentences. But the administration said its legal team interprets the Trump memo to mean people will be required to return to prison a month after the official state of emergency for the pandemic ends. In an email to NBC News, a BOP spokesman said the bureau may choose to keep inmates on home confinement post-pandemic if their sentence is nearly over. Still, thousands are waiting to learn about their sentences after the pandemic.

Rikers Island

Daily News: De Blasio administration is trying to block tour of Rikers Island by state legislators
The de Blasio administration is trying to block a planned tour Monday of the Rikers Island jails by members of the state Legislature, the Daily News has learned. Eleven Assembly and Senate members, along with representatives from the Legal Aid Society and Neighborhood Defenders Services, were set to tour the troubled complex and later hold a press conference to call on the city and state to sharply reduce the jail population and address a staffing crisis because of “extreme and dangerous conditions.” But on Friday, a de Blasio administration official told organizers the pols couldn’t visit without making a prior appointment.

Spectrum NY1: Rikers chief medical officer: Jail needs ‘outside help’
The agency in charge of administering health services at Rikers Island is blowing the whistle about the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the jail, which threatens the life and safety of both inmates and staff. In a letter exclusively obtained by NY1, Ross MacDonald, chief medical officer for the City’s Correctional Health Services, is asking the City Council to request state or federal assistance. In the last year, 10 people have died, including five who committed suicide. “I ask that you urge the city to ask for outside help to immediately stabilize a situation that has resulted in death and threatens the health and well-being of everyone who works and resides in city jails,” MacDonald wrote.

The City: Self-Harm Is Exploding In New York City Jails, Internal Numbers Show
Internal numbers, obtained by WNYC/Gothamist and THE CITY, show that the rate of self-harm in city jails spiked last summer as COVID-19 ravaged New York and has climbed to historic levels in the months since. Between July and September 2020, the self-injury rate nearly doubled that of the previous quarter. According to the latest available data, covering April to June of this year, city jails recorded 539 incidents of incarcerated people hurting themselves, pushing the rate up to 95 such incidents per every thousand detainees — the highest in the last five years.


The Crime Report: Reentry Programs, Reforms Helped Lower Recidivism Rates by Nearly Half
An overall decline in recidivism rates may have been driven by federal and state reentry programs and changes in policing strategy, according to an analysis of 2005-2012 data by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ). According to CCJ, federal and state investment programs have been substantial in recent years, and some private sector initiatives have prioritized the hiring of people with criminal records — efforts that may have reduced reoffending rates.

Pregnancy In Corrections

Port City Daily: Cooper signs pregnant prisoner protection bill into law, supported by unlikely coalition
Governor Roy Cooper (NC) signed House Bill 608 into law Friday, legislation supported by a bipartisan coalition of groups that often find themselves on opposite sides of reproductive issues. The new law carves out a host of new safeguards for pregnant prisoners that protect the health of women and their babies. It ensures pregnant prisoners are provided proper medical care at no cost during the pre- and postnatal phases and also mandates an unrestrained infant-mother bonding period immediately following birth.

Racial Disparities

Urban Institute: Racial and Ethnic Disparities Throughout the Criminal Legal System
In a brief Susan Nembhard and Lily Robin of the Urban Institute write: Differential treatment on the basis of race is well documented in the US criminal legal system. Definitions of criminality and criminal activity are rooted in structural inequalities between people of color and white people, and racist policies and practices have been used to control and separate communities of color. In addition, discretion given to individual system actors at each decision point in the system creates opportunities for racial biases to influence practices toward and outcomes for system-involved people.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Lawyers say a Pennsylvania county traps people with mental illness in jail indefinitely
Reviewing a case at the Delaware County Courthouse on Tuesday morning, President Judge Kevin F. Kelly grew exasperated. The question at hand was whether to release a man whose incarceration Kelly acknowledged was illegal but who had serious mental illness and no treatment lined up. “This is about as helpful as a rubber crutch,” he finally told the lawyers arguing in front of him. “Either I keep him in jail or I let him go, but he still has no help.” The county has been jailing people with mental illness for alleged offenses resulting from their disabilities — then keeping them in jail for months or even years because county probation and jail mental health staff had not made housing or treatment arrangements, and would not approve alternatives such as homeless shelters.

Mental Healthcare Initiatives in Corrections

ABC 7 Denver: Colorado lawmakers discuss mental health treatment in the criminal justice system
An interim legislative committee met at the Colorado State Capitol Wednesday to hold a public hearing on the treatment of people with mental health disorders within the criminal justice system. The committee is working to understand what is happening within the system and how the state can help. The goal is to come up with bills to propose during the 2022 legislative session. According to Colorado Department of Corrections data from June, roughly 5,477 people in their facilities have mental health needs, making up 33% of their overall inmate population.

San Diego Union-Tribune: San Diego Sheriff, County Health Department will coordinate care in jails
The Sheriff’s Department struck an agreement with the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency to work together to improve healthcare for people incarcerated in the county’s seven jails, officials announced Wednesday. Under a memorandum of understanding the agencies aim to meet or exceed national standards for physical and behavioral health services, which include mental health and substance abuse treatment. They also will help people receive community care once they leave jail, which could reduce their risk of returning, officials said.

HeraldNet: New plan: Lynnwood jail could include a mental health wing
Plans for a new jail here now include a mental health wing amid calls to redirect resources from incarceration to recovery initiatives. The proposed Community Justice Center, which would house a new jail, a misdemeanor court and the police department, was to include 120 jail beds, a marked increase from the 46 beds in the current facility. Under the new plan, it will have 84 beds, police chief Jim Nelson said at a Tuesday evening City Council meeting.

Opioid Epidemic

WTOP News: Arlington Co. to add fentanyl test strips to inmate release bags
With opioid overdoses on the rise, Arlington County public health officials will provide fentanyl test strips in bags that are given to inmates upon release. Health officials made the announcement on International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held each year to increase awareness of overdose deaths and prevention. Fentanyl is now the most-common drug involved in U.S. overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

AP: Albuquerque jail offers treatment for opioid addiction
The Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque has begun a program to give buprenorphine to people in jail who are already using it to treat their opioid addictions. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the buprenorphine maintenance program can provide an average of 22 inmates per day with the medication. Recovery Services of New Mexico -- a treatment organization run by BayMark Health Services -- received a contract to provide the medication at the jail late last year.

Water Safety

The Kansas City Star: Quality of Mississippi prison water at center of dispute
Longstanding problems with water and sewer systems are endangering inmates' health at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, two groups said Friday. Southern Poverty Law Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council said state agencies must take swift action to correct the problems. Vidhi Bamzai, staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a news release that the Mississippi Department of Corrections and other agencies have known about problems for years, and inmates "are forced to use water that no state official would ever sip. The state must act now to remedy this.”

Staffing Shortages

Bangor Daily News: Bangor jail is functioning without 25 percent of its staff as overcrowding persists
The Penobscot County Jail is functioning without 25 percent of its staff due to vacancies and medical leaves. The county is advertising on its website and Facebook page for corrections officers with a pay scale of between $19.85 and $24.31 an hour and benefits. The county is also offering a $1,000 signing bonus with $500 paid after the successful completion of a nine-month probationary period and the rest paid at the completion of the second year of full-time status. Jails throughout Maine and the state prison system have struggled for at least a decade to hire and keep corrections officers and guards. Statewide, the number of corrections officers in Maine county jails fell to 725 in 2020.

EHRs In Corrections

EHR Intelligence: FL Corrections Dept Unveils EHR Implementation, Care Coordination
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) has entered the go-live phase of a statewide EHR implementation set to boost health data interoperability for care coordination. FDC partnered with health IT vendor Centurion Health for the implementation. Prior to the system implementation, all FDC health records were completed on paper forms. For another correctional facility to gain access to a patient’s health record, FDC officials had to manually scan and fax the paper document.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Albuquerque Journal: Another man dies in custody of MDC
The Aug. 29 death of Nicholas McCoy comes six days after 65-year-old Anthony Armijo died at the jail. McCoy is the 11th person to die while in the jail’s custody since April 2020. In March, the Journal published on article detailing how nine people had died over the course of a year while in the custody of MDC – six of them while detoxing from drugs or alcohol or under the care of Centurion Detention Health Services. It was a dramatic increase over previous years.

Reuters: DOJ report exposes failures of jail reform measures
Andrew Holland died in San Luis Obispo County Jail in 2017, after being shackled to a chair for 46 hours, naked except for a helmet and blanket, writhing in his own filth as guards watched through the cell door. Wellpath and its staff "appear not to take seriously" prisoner’s medical concerns, the DOJ said. It noted that the company’s health services administrator used a “popular meme” from the television show Downton Abbey to mock prisoner concerns as “whining” during a presentation made to jail leadership.

Berkeleyside: Alameda County jail’s medical director was fired for using her position to obtain drugs
The medical director of Alameda County’s jail was fired last year after a summer spike of COVID-19 cases when her employer discovered that she had been using her position to supply herself with opioid drugs. Her firing was first disclosed last week after her license to practice medicine was suspended. Judy Lilley, a spokesperson for Wellpath, the jail’s for-profit healthcare provider, confirmed that Waldura is no longer employed by Wellpath but did not respond to questions about whether the former medical director’s drug abuse problems affected Wellpath’s ability to effectively care for its patients.

VT Digger: High court finds private health care contractor for state subject to public records law
The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that a private contractor working for the state to provide health care to incarcerated individuals cannot skirt Vermont’s Public Records Act. The decision overturns a lower court ruling and is the latest twist in a long-running battle by the Human Rights Defense Center. Since 2015 the nonprofit organization has been seeking five years of records from Correct Care Solutions related to legal claims against the company when it contracted with the Vermont Department of Corrections to provide health care in the state’s prisons.