Weekly Update: August 31, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: August 31, 2021

Highlighted Stories

US Chamber of Commerce: The Business Case for Criminal Justice Reform: Second Chance Hiring
An estimated 70 million people in the U.S. have an arrest or conviction record, and over 600,000 men and women are released from jail each year. Successfully reintegrating these individuals brings many advantages. First, there are advantages to these individuals who can get a fresh start supporting and taking care of themselves and their families. Second, employers can benefit by tapping into a talented labor force to meet their workforce needs. And, third, society as a whole gains when ex-offenders are connected to employment opportunities and their communities in terms of reduced recidivism and development of human capital.

New York Times: White House Weighs Clemency to Keep Some Drug Offenders Confined at Home
President Biden is considering using his clemency powers to commute the sentences of certain federal drug offenders released to home confinement during the pandemic rather than forcing them to return to prison after the pandemic emergency ends, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. The legal and policy discussions about a mass clemency program are focused on nonviolent drug offenders with less than four years remaining in their sentences.

The Hill: After census, states move to count prisoners at home
A growing number of state and local governments are using a new set of data produced by the U.S. Census Bureau to recalculate the residences of hundreds of thousands of prison inmates who are serving their sentences far away from their homes. Legislatures in Connecticut and New Jersey have passed new laws this year that require state redistricting panels to count those who are incarcerated as living at their home addresses, joining California, Nevada, Colorado, Delaware and Virginia in adopting the policy for the first time this decade.

Forbes: Arkansas Medical Board Opens Probe Into Jail Dosing Covid Patients With Animal Dewormer Ivermectin
The Arkansas Medical Board has opened an investigation into a jail in northwest Arkansas following reports its medical staff had been treating coronavirus-infected inmates with Ivermectin, an animal dewormer whose apparently increasing off-label use as a coronavirus treatment has been public health authorities in recent weeks. Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder confirmed Tuesday night that Ivermectin has been prescribed to inmates infected with Covid-19 at the county detention center, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette first reported.

New York Times: Justice Dept. to Close Troubled Jail Where Jeffrey Epstein Died
Conditions at a high-security federal jail in Lower Manhattan have deteriorated so much that federal officials said on Thursday that they planned to close the facility, at least temporarily. The decision comes just weeks after the deputy attorney general, Lisa O. Monaco, visited the jail in order to get a firsthand look at its operations, “given ongoing concerns,” as the Justice Department said at the time. The jail is perhaps best known as the place where Jeffrey Epstein, who was facing sex-trafficking charges. Two jail guards were later accused of surfing the internet and napping rather than regularly checking in on him.

COVID-19 Delta Surge in Corrections

HuffPost: Delta Is Coming For Jails And Prisons, And The System Isn’t Ready To Protect The Incarcerated
The more easily transmissible COVID-19 mutation presents a grave threat to the nation’s incarcerated population — and by most indications, the system will yet again fail to protect them. The fundamental structure of the country’s prison system, which relies on cramming people in close proximity to one another in poorly ventilated buildings, makes detention facilities among the most dangerous places to be during an infectious outbreak. While vaccines are now widely available, in most of the country, the people who work inside prisons and jails are not required to get vaccinated.

Tampa Bay Times: Coronavirus cases have ‘skyrocketed’ to 90 in past week at Pinellas jail
Coronavirus cases among inmates at the Pinellas County jail have risen dramatically in the past week, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Tuesday, another sign of the pandemic’s hold on a community beleaguered by the highly contagious delta variant. Of inmates who have been tested for the virus, 90 were sick with COVID-19 as of Tuesday out of a total population of 2,741 people. It’s the worst outbreak at the jail since the pandemic started.

San Diego Union Tribune: COVID-19 cases on rise in San Diego jails; detention staff required to vaccinate or test weekly
Amid a continuing rise in COVID-19 cases in San Diego County jails, the Sheriff’s Department is requiring that its detention staff either be vaccinated against the disease or undergo weekly testing. As of Thursday, there were at least 200 active COVID-19 cases among those in custody throughout the county’s seven detention facilities, or a little more than 5 percent of the 3,876 people in jail, according to department data. That was an increase of 85 cases since Wednesday.

VT Digger: New Covid-19 cases in prisons prompt mask mandate, restrictions on visitors
More cases of Covid-19 have been detected inside Vermont’s prisons, prompting new restrictions, including a system-wide mask mandate. On Thursday, the Department of Corrections reported seven new Covid-19 positive cases among incarcerated people and staff. On Friday, the department said three more incarcerated people had tested positive for the virus. The masking requirement applies to staff members and incarcerated individuals in all six of the state’s prisons.

Second Wave Michigan: COVID has hit jails hard, but this Wayne County-based collaboration is making them safer
As COVID-19 has raged through Wayne County, the Wayne County Sheriff's Department and Wayne County Jail have experienced a heavy toll. COVID-19 took the life of Wayne County Sheriff's Office Commander Donafay Collins last March. The next month, two physicians serving inmates in the jail system, Dr. Angelo Patsalis and Dr. Richard Miles, died from the disease. By June 2020, more than 200 staff members and nearly 100 inmates had contracted the virus. And Sheriff Benny Napoleon contracted COVID-19 in November, then died in December.

COVID-19 Vaccinations and Correctional Officers

Voice of OC: OC Sheriff Staff Have Lowest Self-Reported Vaccination Rate as COVID Outbreaks Increase in County Workforce
As coronavirus outbreaks continue hitting county government workplaces, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has the lowest self-reported vaccination rate among county departments, according to data from county officials. Just 16% of sheriff staff self-attested to being vaccinated as of last week, compared with 75% of Board of Supervisors staff, according to data obtained through a public records request.

AP: Some California prison workers ordered to get vaccinated
Guards, janitors, administrators and other California corrections personnel who don’t provide health care services directly but who may be exposed to the coronavirus will now be required to get vaccinated under a new state public health order released this week. The latest order, involving prisons, jails and other detention facilities, requires people who provide health care services to inmates, prisoners or detainees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 14. That also includes “persons not directly involved in delivering health care, but who could be exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted in the health care setting,” such as correctional officers, maintenance workers and laundry staff.

VT Digger: Union, administration in talks over vaccination requirements for corrections officers
Requiring the vaccination of corrections officers, and what to do if they refuse, is a matter of negotiation. The news comes as two corrections workers at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport have recently tested positive for Covid-19. Gov. Phil Scott said at a press conference earlier this month that the state planned to begin requiring state employees in certain institutions to get vaccinated or face additional restrictions. But, it hasn’t happened yet in the correctional system.

COVID-19 Deaths and Lawsuits

Marin Independent Journal: COVID: San Quentin guard’s family sues state over his death
The family of the San Quentin prison guard who died last summer from COVID-19 after a botched transfer of infected inmates from another prison filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday against state prison officials, blaming them for a “culture of callousness” that led to one of the largest outbreaks in the country and 29 deaths. The lawsuit comes six months after a scathing report from the state Office of the Inspector General found that the transfer of 122 inmates from a Chino prison by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was “deeply flawed.”

COVID-19 and Data Transparency in Corrections

Kaiser Health News: States Pull Back on Covid Data Even Amid Delta Surge
Two state government websites in Georgia recently stopped posting updates on covid-19 cases in prisons and long-term care facilities, just as the dangerous delta variant was taking hold. Data has been disappearing recently in other states as well. Florida, for example, now reports covid cases, deaths and hospitalizations once a week, instead of daily, as before. Both states, along with the rest of the South, are battling high infection rates.

Healthcare Staffing Shortages In Corrections

New York Times: An ‘Absolute Emergency’ at Rikers Island as Violence Increases
A detainee was stabbed. A correction officer was slashed. And another person who was incarcerated at Rikers Island had scalding water thrown on him, causing second-degree burns all over his body. The episodes were included in a letter that a federal monitor filed with a court on Tuesday that described “unreasonably high” levels of violence this summer at Rikers, New York City’s vast jail complex.

The City: Rikers Staffing Crisis Limits Access to Medical Care
A letter sent Tuesday by a federal monitor overseeing New York City jails sounded the alarm on a “high level of disorder and chaos” and a failure to “provide basic services to people in custody.” Fueling the escalating crisis is a staffing shortage that’s also made getting medical care at Rikers Island and other city lockups an ordeal. City jails records show thousands of missed medical appointments each month, at a time when prompt care is especially urgent. In March 2021, one in five scheduled doctors’ visits didn’t happen — 12,914 in all.

Cleveland.com: Ex-Cuyahoga County Jail director said he ‘ran the jails’ and thwarted hiring of medical staff prior to inmate deaths, former nursing director testifies
MetroHealth’s former director of nursing testified Wednesday that former Cuyahoga County Jail director Ken Mills thwarted requests to hire more nurses at the overcrowded facility in the run-up to a series of inmate deaths in 2018. Mills said at the time there were “too many nurses” at the jail so it was “a waste of money” to pay for more to treat the 2,000 inmates inside the jail, former director of nursing Gary Brack said.

Juveniles In Corrections

Washington Post: Sex-trafficked kids are crime victims. In Las Vegas, they still go to jail.
Two years ago, Nevada lawmakers declared that starting in July 2022, minors can no longer be placed in detention facilities for engaging in prostitution or solicitation. But in Las Vegas, there is no solidified plan to stop doing so. Yet every week, it happens. A teenager, sometimes two or three, falls for an undercover detective’s offers and ends up locked behind barbed wire. Citing the pandemic, Clark County officials would not allow a reporter inside the facility.

Lawsuits and Mental Health in Corrections

FOX 2 KTVU: Major mental health care reforms proposed at Santa Rita Jail with legal agreement
Major mental health care reforms could occur in the next few years at Santa Rita Jail as prison rights lawyers and the Alameda County Sheriff have agreed to a series of changes as the result of a proposed settlement filed in federal court. The changes must come over the next two years and the oversight will remain in effect for a minimum of six years. The U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating the constitutional violations of those with mental health issues at the jail, will be given access to information and visits to the jail, as part of the agreement.

San Francisco Chronicle: California must provide prompt treatment for mentally incompetent defendants, court rules
The California Supreme Court rejected the state’s appeal Wednesday of an order requiring prompt mental treatment for more than 1,000 criminal defendants who are being held in jail for months after being found mentally incompetent to stand trial. The case involves defendants who are found to be unable to understand the criminal proceedings they are facing, or unable to communicate with their lawyer. The ruling became final Wednesday after the state’s high court denied review of an appeal by the Department of State Hospitals.

WGLT: Judge Unseals Report On Mental Health Care In Illinois Prisons
The public has a right to information about how Illinois prisons are managing health care for mentally ill inmates, a federal judge ruled Friday in ordering a report to be unsealed, over the objections of the state Department of Corrections. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mihm denied an IDOC request to seal a report from Dr. Pablo Stewart, a court-appointed monitor hired to review the state's progress in a mandated overhaul of mental health care to 12,000 inmates. In its request to keep the report under wraps until the end of September, the state argued more time was needed to review and verify data used by Stewart.

Funding Mental Health Instead of Corrections

KPIX 5: Dozens Protest Plan for New Santa Clara County Main Jail
Roughly three dozen protesters gathered outside the Santa Clara County Main Jail Friday afternoon to demand a “shutdown” of plans for the new jail and the sheriff that oversees the facility. The protesters are demanding that funds to build a new jail go toward mental health and community resources instead, including parenting classes, job training and a wellness center for behavioral health.The protesters are demanding that funds to build a new jail go toward mental health and community resources instead, including parenting classes, job training and a wellness center for behavioral health.

The Norman Transcript: Five years after voters approved criminal justice reforms, counties still waiting on mental health funding
Oklahoma voters meant to address that funding gap by approving a landmark package of criminal justice reforms in 2016 that included creating a new fund to help finance county mental health programs. But five years later, the Legislature has not sent any money to the fund and the state has yet to draft official rules for how the money can be spent. Advocates say the lack of funding has left a gap for counties to fill to address mental health care shortages in their areas, leaving law enforcement as the primary intervention for people struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Dayton Daily News: Greene County jail contractor monitoring opposition’s social media
HDR, a national architecture, design and consulting firm, is contracted to provide data analytics to the county in hopes of persuading voters to approve the jail levy this fall. Opponents of the county building a new jail said the company’s work is concerning. County administrator’s said HDR’s work is intended to get the message out about the need for a new jail. Jill Becker, a member of Greene County Coalition for Compassionate Justice who has said if the county builds a new jail it should offer more mental health services, is concerned about the hiring of HDR.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

The Advocate: Testing only inmates with symptoms skews Baton Rouge jail's COVID data, Metro Council says
Despite massive increases in the availability of COVID-19 tests and federal dollars to pay for them, testing protocols inside the Baton Rouge jail have not changed since the pandemic began. Representatives for CorrectHealth, the embattled private company in charge of jail medical care, touted low case numbers inside the facility. Case numbers are low because jail staff are still testing only symptomatic inmates, council members said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended mass testing inside correctional facilities and other congregate living settings over a year ago.

In Observation Of Labor Day
COCHS Weekly Update Will Not Be Published Next Week