Weekly Update: February 1, 2022

COCHS Weekly Update: February 1, 2022

Highlighted Stories

NEJM: Strengthening the Medicaid Reentry Act — Supporting the Health of People Who Are Incarcerated
The Medicaid Reentry Act is a first step toward addressing deficiencies in correctional health care delivery, but additional changes could be incorporated before its final passage to maximize its impact and improve the health of people who are incarcerated in the United States. We support the recommendation of the National Association of Counties and the National Sheriffs’ Association that Congress amend Section 1905(a)(A) of the Social Security Act to permit the continuation of federal benefits, such as Medicaid, for people who are detained before trial. This change could be added to the Medicaid Reentry Act before passage.

Common Cause: The Paid Jailer: How Sheriff Campaign Dollars Shape Mass Incarceration
In the criminal legal system, the patterns are clear and striking. Business interests can establish a relationship with sheriffs by sending even small contributions. Construction companies provide backing to sheriffs who proceed to build new jails. Health care companies fund campaigns, and then receive multimillion-dollar contracts, with no criteria for results or the health of incarcerated people. The list of donors with direct conflicts is striking and includes employed deputies, bail bonds companies, weapons dealers, and gun ranges. It is a system incentivized to jail more people and cast a blind eye to any harm suffered by those within the jails.

GBH News: Watchdog group says political donations to sheriffs pose problems for inmates
Construction, food services, prison health and other incarceration-specific businesses benefit from helping elect certain sheriffs, said researcher Kesha Morris Desir, the Census and Mass Incarceration Project Manager at Common Cause. Maryland, Orange County and Massachusetts were among the top offenders for receiving ethically conflicted donations, with Massachusetts being the highest.

KBIA: How Medicaid expansion in Missouri could help reduce recidivism
With Medicaid expansion, a broad swathe of low-income Missourians are now eligible to receive public health insurance. Recent research has found states that expanded Medicaid had lower rates of recidivism than those that didn't. Erkmen Aslim, an economics professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, was lead author on that study, and he found mental health was a likely factor.

ABC: Senators say they were denied full access to federal prison
Two U.S. senators said Wednesday that they were denied access to parts of a federal prison in Connecticut while trying to examine conditions there in response to correctional officers' complaints about a staffing shortage and lack of coronavirus precautions. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, visited the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution with labor union leaders and two state lawmakers.

COCHS Policy Analyst Opening

COCHS Is Hiring: A Policy Analyst
Would you like to improve health care for those involved with the justice system? COCHS is looking for a policy analyst who is ready to develop policy in the interface of our health and justice systems. Candidates will have a graduate degree in public health, public administration, public policy or any other appropriate terminal degree. Work will remain remote but travel to conferences and work sites will resume at some point COVID-permitting. If interested, send a cover letter and CV/resume to info@cochs.org.

COVID-19 Safety Protocols

LAist: In LA Jail, Health Workers Say Deputies Discourage Vaccinations And Deface COVID-19 Signs
L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies are flouting COVID-19 regulations and spreading lies about vaccines inside the beleaguered Twin Towers Correctional Facility, according to multiple health care workers tending to some of the most vulnerable and sick incarcerated people. Several complaints about the behavior have been sent to county health and sheriff’s officials.

NNY 360: Inmates allege jail is not following COVID-19 protocols
For 10 to 20 days spanning November to December, the county jail was quietly locked down as COVID raced through. According to multiple inmates very little was done to help or protect them. They claim that standard COVID protocols were ignored. The sick mingled with the well for days before being locked into their cells for 23-and-a-half hours a day. Nothing was sanitized. All things were shared by the negatives and the positives. Medical made rare appearances.

COVID-19 Surge in Corrections

Denver Gazette: Federal prison in Colorado allowing COVID to spread largely unchecked, employees allege
The federal prison in Littleton has largely refused to properly screen staff or broadly test inmates for COVID-19, employees there say, ignoring federal guidance despite repeated pleas from the union that represents the facility's workers. The result, those workers said, is the largely unchecked spread of the virus in the sort of setting that has been a hotbed for outbreaks for nearly two years.

NC Health News: Breaking Point: Two years of pandemic measures take a toll on prisoners during Omicron surge
More than 700 out of the prison system’s roughly 13,000 staff members are currently not able to go to work after testing positive for COVID or being exposed to someone with the virus, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. As the latest Omicron surge has upended people’s hopes that the pandemic was winding down and caused widespread frustration, the two-year anniversary of the pandemic’s appearance in the U.S. means something different to incarcerated people.

Cal Matters: COVID cases triple in California juvenile prisons
COVID-19 cases among California’s incarcerated youth have tripled since last week, and at least one youth recently was admitted to a community hospital after experiencing serious symptoms, according to an internal agency email obtained by CalMatters. While the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation consistently tracks and routinely releases data on COVID-19 inside adult prisons, the same detailed disclosures are not made for those in the juvenile prison population.

AP: Sheriff: 47 inmates positive for COVID-19 in Georgia jail
A Georgia county that shares a border with Alabama confirms nearly 50 of its inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office released information Friday showing 47 positive cases among inmates. It also said more than 420 inmates are currently in quarantine. Muscogee County is located on the central western border of Georgia.

Reading Eagle: Pennsylvania state prisons to halt in-person visitation through February
In-person visits will be stopped , at all state correctional institutions, starting on Thursday and lasting until Feb. 28. Free video visits will be expanded and cable TV in inmates’ cells will be free in February. Pennsylvania’s state prisons announced Monday they will not allow in-person visits for the coming month because their staff has been thinned by coronavirus infection. In-person visits will be stopped , at all state correctional institutions, starting on Thursday and lasting until Feb. 28. Free video visits will be expanded and cable TV in inmates’ cells will be free in February.

COVID-19 Increasing Incarceration

VT Digger: Vermont Conversation: The ‘pandemic-to-prison pipeline’ and the student mental health crisis
Two experts — Mark Warren and Jonathan Stith — argue that during the pandemic, schools are responding to a student mental health crisis with harsh discipline that has fallen hardest on students of color. This “white lash” has resulted in what they call the “pandemic-to-prison pipeline.” “Instead of getting support, and investment of support, what we’ve been starting to see is the intensification of discipline and policing practices in schools,” Warren said.

COVID-19 Early Release

Modesto Bee: Tuolumne jail releases 13 inmates early after COVID-19 outbreak; 16 others are sick
The Tuolumne County Jail is releasing 13 inmates early because of a COVID-19 outbreak. All of them are nonviolent offenders within 30 days of their planned release, the Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Wednesday night. Another 16 inmates in three housing units have tested positive for the virus. The overall jail population was cut by 50% to reduce the risk of further spread, the post said.

Rikers Island

New York Times: 16 Men Died in New York City Jails Last Year. Who Were They?
At least 16 people died in the custody of New York’s troubled jails in 2021. Most were awaiting trial and died on Rikers Island. The deaths have received outsize scrutiny compared with years past. Inmates were found hanging from the ends of makeshift nooses or slumped from drug overdoses in a place with a basic responsibility to keep each inmate safe from harm, pending trial or release.

Criminal Justice Reform

NPR: Flaws plague a tool meant to help low-risk federal prisoners win early release
Thousands of people are leaving federal prison this month thanks to a law called the First Step Act, which allowed them to win early release by participating in programs aimed at easing their return to society. But thousands of others may still remain behind bars because of fundamental flaws in the Justice Department's method for deciding who can take the early-release track. The biggest flaw: persistent racial disparities that put Black and brown people at a disadvantage.

Inquest: Abolition Is Public Health
At its annual meeting, American Public Health Associatio (APHA) adopts evidence-based policy statements that are meant to guide APHA’s policy agenda. As co-authors of the APHA policy statement on carceral systems, we see abolition as central to public health policy and practice. In November 2020, the incarceration policy statement passed as a late-breaker, which meant the APHA Governing Council felt the issue of COVID-19 in carceral facilities was of critical concern for public health officials in the thick of managing the pandemic.

New Jersey Monitor: Justices give hope to juvenile offenders, allow sentencing review after 20 years
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Monday that juvenile offenders serving lengthy prison sentences may ask for sentencing review after they’ve served 20 years behind bars, a decision juvenile justice reformers celebrated as overdue recognition that children don’t deserve to be locked away for life.

WFPL: Louisville jail continues to be overcrowded despite drop in admissions
Criminal justice reforms over the last decade have done little to change racial disparities at the Louisville jail, the researchers found. Despite Black residents making up just 24% of Jefferson County’s population, they made up 39% of jail admissions between 2014 and 2019. Their average length of stay also increased by 21% during that time, compared to a rise of 17% for white residents.

Women and Reentry

NJ.com: Women leaving prison in N.J. now have a health center just for them
Formerly incarcerated women working with the nonprofit New Jersey Reentry Corporation to find financial independence will now have access to a full menu of medical, dental and mental health services offered from a wellness center in Hudson County. The Francine A. LeFrak Wellness Center is named after Francine A. LeFrak, a philanthropist and social entrepreneur who founded Same Sky, a nonprofit that has promoted financial independence for women survivors of the Rwandan genocide, as well as formerly incarcerated women in New Jersey.

Voices of The Incarcerated

The Marshall Project: I’m Having a Cancer Scare. But Prison Healthcare Is So Degrading, I’ve Quit Seeking Answers.
My physical exam this summer was one of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I stood before a nurse and a medical practitioner — both female — with my arms up in the air and my uniform and boxers down to my knees. I was a little cold and highly embarrassed. Even worse, a male CO stood behind me, on the other side of the bed. Sitting on the white paper-covered hospital mat with my pants still down and my arms still up, I decided that I wouldn’t come back to this healthcare building.

Solitary Confinement

Tampa Bay Times: Roughly 1 in 8 Florida prisoners is in solitary confinement, advocates say
About 10,000 people are in solitary confinement in Florida, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many of them fall into the same demographic groups: young, Black and male. The Southern Poverty Law Center has sued the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice on behalf of adults and juveniles over the alleged use of solitary confinement.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

KTVU: Alameda County agrees with the incarcerated: Santa Rita Jail needs overhaul
At the end of a 5 ½-hour court testimony over whether to sign a legal agreement to change the mental health care conditions at Santa Rita Jail, lawyers for Alameda County – the defendants in the suit – acknowledged that conditions in the Dublin facility need overhaul and need it quickly. The reforms included in the decree would mandate that those who need it will get adequate mental health care; people will be placed in therapeutic housing units instead of restrictive maximum security units; more out-of-cell time will be given; and the use of small “safety cells” will be curtailed.

VT Digger: UVM study paints grim picture at Springfield prison
Staff and incarcerated people at Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield have experienced high rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts, according to a study released Thursday by the University of Vermont. “There was clearly a decision made to try to stop both of us from seeing some of the conditions at this prison,” Murphy said during a news conference after the visit.

NJ.com: After violence at N.J. jail, oversight committee probes housing and mental health
A civilian committee overseeing operations at the Essex County jail in Newark sought answers on Saturday during a public meeting from jail leaders about the facility’s “special housing unit,” where it keeps inmates who officials believe must be separated from the jail’s general population. During the public comment period at the end, Lydia Thornton, an activist who spent more than nine months in solitary confinement in New Jersey, spoke about the mental health screenings inmates receive when they’re booked into the facility.


Addiction Policy Forum: Case Study: Telehealth Services Pilot Project, Georgia Department of Community Supervision
To provide safety net support and services during the pandemic, the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, in partnership with the Addiction Policy Forum and Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE), expanded telehealth support to justice involved substance use disorder (SUD) patients during the pandemic. GDCS participants reported significant improvements in sleep and confidence in recovery / abstinence, as well as reductions in urges / cravings, feelings of depression, and relationship troubles. Four participants reported a relapse and were connected with recovery support.

New Jail Construction

Mercury News: Opinion: Building new jail would worsen health in Santa Clara County
Dr. Jack Pollack, Dr. Celina Mercer and Dr. Tara Filsuf write: The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is deciding if our county should invest in building a new jail. Currently, the county jails approximately 2,500 people, disproportionately Black and Latinx, at a cost of $400,000 per day. Time spent in jail worsens a person’s mental health, and according to a 2016 grand jury report, 40-50% of the men and 80% of the women in our jail already have mental illness.

Wirters On The Range: Alternatives to bigger jails aren’t a partisan issue
The economy in Jackson County (OR) is dominated by mostly low-wage jobs in tourism, health care, agriculture and forestry, yielding a median income 24 percent lower than the national average. Republicans win every county commissioner election, and last year, those commissioners asked voters to authorize a new jail with three times the capacity of the old one. But voters in this “red” county said no by nearly 3 to 1. Community group of volunteers convinced voters that lockups weren’t the only answer.

Private Prisons

Los Angeles Times: California settlement limits ICE from re-detaining immigrants freed because of COVID
Documents uncovered during litigation showed that ICE and the private prison contractor GEO Group deliberately limited coronavirus testing while there was an outbreak at the Bakersfield facility because they believed it would be too difficult to quarantine those who tested positive. In a searing response, federal Judge Vincent Chhabria in San Francisco called the conduct of officials in charge appalling and said ICE had “lost the right to be trusted.”

Patch: These Private Prisons Have Over 100% Staff Turnover. Will More State Money Help?
Two private prisons in rural southeast Colorado — both operated by the company CoreCivic — are grappling with high turnover rates among their staff. To address this, the Department of Corrections wants more state money to pay CoreCivic. Lawmakers voted Friday to support that request.

Correctional Healthcare Vendors

MPR News: MN board suspends medical license of jail doctor
The state medical board has suspended indefinitely the license of a doctor, Dr. Todd Leonard, whose company, MEnD Correctional Care, has been under scrutiny for its role in the death of a Beltrami County jail inmate. In its Jan. 21 decision, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice found that Leonard demonstrated a willful or careless disregard for the health, welfare or safety of the patient, whom it did not name.