Weekly Update: April 20, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: April 20, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Health Affairs: Uneven Rollout Of COVID-19 Vaccinations In United States Prisons
Given the increased risk of COVID-19 among people who are incarcerated, it is imperative to vaccinate people in US prisons as soon as possible. But although experts have called to urgently vaccinate people behind the walls, the number of people who have received vaccinations in correctional facilities remains opaque. Few systems publish any data on COVID-19 vaccinations in corrections, and no government infrastructure exists to track the rollout of vaccinations in corrections nationally.

Reuters: Thousands of low-level U.S. inmates released in pandemic could be headed back to prison
As more people are vaccinated, thousands could be hauled back into prison to serve the remainder of their sentences, thanks to a little-noticed legal opinion issued by the Justice Department in the waning days of Republican former President Donald Trump's administration. Congressional Democrats and justice-reform advocates have called on President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to reverse the opinion, but so far the new administration has not acted to rescind the memo.

National Institute of Justice: Children of incarcerated parents face lifetime of health problems
Children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system, in particular, face a host of challenges and difficulties: psychological strain, antisocial behavior, suspension or expulsion from school, economic hardship, and criminal activity. It is difficult to predict how a child will fare when a parent is intermittently or continually incarcerated, and research findings on these children’s risk factors are mixed. However, research suggests that the strength or weakness of the parent-child bond and the quality of the child and family’s social support system play significant roles in the child’s ability to overcome challenges and succeed in life.

Oklahoma News 4: Oklahoma lawmakers plead for U.S. Attorney General to intervene at Oklahoma County Jail & address ‘horrendous conditions’
Oklahoma lawmakers are calling upon federal authorities to intervene at the Oklahoma County Detention Center and address the “horrendous conditions” at the jail. Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus members sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, pleading with him to respond to alarming conditions at the Detention Center. “Inmates are subject to mold, bed bugs, and a lack of access to medical care and basic health and hygiene needs,” the letter states.

Medicaid Reentry Act

State of Reform: Committee discusses bill to extend Medicaid coverage to inmates prior to release
The House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee discussed the Medicaid Reentry Act of 2021 during a hearing on substance misuse and the opioid epidemic on Wednesday. The bill, which is sponsored by Congressman Paul Tonko, would allow states to make Medicaid coverage available for incarcerated individuals up to 30 days prior to release. In a letter to Tonko and other members of Congress, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reasoned that allowing coverage prior to release would help connect individuals to care and would reduce recidivism. NAMI says that about 80% of individuals released from prison in the U.S. have a substance use disorder, chronic medical, or psychiatric issue.

Medpage Today: MAT Often Not an Option for Opioid Users in Justice System
Criminal justice populations were significantly less likely to receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD) -- such as methadone and buprenorphine -- even with the increased access brought about by Medicaid expansion in certain states, a recent study found. In Medicaid expansion states, criminal justice populations saw higher rates of receiving medications for OUD than did those in states without this expansion (ARR 2.07, 95% CI 2.00-2.13) over the course of the entire study period, 2008-2017. When looking at the general population outside of those involved in the criminal justice system, Black and brown patients were significantly less likely to receive medications like buprenorphine than their white counterparts.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

North Carolina Health News: NC prisons running out of people willing to accept COVID vaccine
Department of Public Safety is reducing vaccines and slowing the rate at which it is vaccinating its staff and people in prison. The reason, prison spokesperson Brad Deen said, is that after vaccinating almost 22,400 people, fewer incarcerated people or prison staff are left who want to be vaccinated. The slowdown in vaccinations could hurt people in the prison system by delaying a return to more normal operations, which both prison staff and incarcerated people have said they want, or by putting staff and incarcerated people at risk of illness if they return too quickly.

KQED: Advocates Work to Combat Vaccine Distrust in ICE Detention Facilities
Immigrant advocates are pushing state officials to increase outreach at facilities where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are being held, to combat distrust over the COVID-19 vaccine. While federal, state and local officials have engaged in a public outreach campaign for months to ensure that residents are aware of the facts about the vaccine, advocates say similar efforts have not been made within detention facilities. And even when information is provided by ICE — or the subcontractors that run their facilities — there is often widespread distrust.

ABC News: Prisons postpone vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson shots paused
At George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, a for-profit facility run by the GEO Group, Thursday was supposed to be vaccine day. A mass vaccination event had been scheduled for the roughly 1,300 people incarcerated there -- all were to be offered a Johnson & Johnson shot. But the nationwide pause to examine the vaccine more closely put those plans on hold indefinitely.

Wisconsin State Journal: DOC has vaccinated 17% of Wisconsin prisoners, but ‘slow’ process compared to state
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has vaccinated 17% of state prisoners against COVID-19, but is still lagging behind the statewide vaccination rate of 37.6% of residents who have received a dose — despite all inmates having been eligible since March 1. Although the vaccines seem to be running behind, the number of COVID-19 cases in the prison system has plummeted. On Tuesday, the active case count among prisoners was just six.

COVID-19 Early Release Update

West Hawaii Today: State Supreme Court concludes COVID-19 inmate release case
The Hawaii Supreme Court on Friday terminated a case which led to an order requiring the state’s correctional facilities to release certain inmates because of the coronavirus pandemic. “It appears that the rate of positive cases in Hawaii’s correctional centers and facilities has significantly declined since the petition was filed in August 2020, testing and other health and safety measures have been implemented within the correctional centers and facilities, and a vaccination program to vaccinate inmates is underway,” the order states. “Thus, it appears that the conditions that necessitated swift action by this court in August 2020 are no longer prevalent.”

Voices of the Incarcerated

Daily News: In prison, today’s pandemic and shades of yesterday’s: What the fight against COVID can learn from the one against AIDS
When AIDS hit us, the anxiety among prisoners was palpable, the misinformation was rife, the distrust of CDC guidelines was high. I was co-founder of the first comprehensive peer education project on AIDS in a prison, which helped spark a proliferation of such programs throughout New York State and nationwide. A few months back I was part of a cluster of six people called to the prison infirmary to be offered the seasonal flu shot; four of the other five men refused it. Today, as I listen to the loud conversations “on the gate” (people talking back and forth while locked in their cells), I hear considerable sentiment against taking the COVID-19 vaccine when it is offered. People in more comfortable sectors of society may not understand why such distrust of the medical authorities is so widespread in here, but it’s reality-based.

The Washington Post: Once jailed, these women now hold courts accountable — with help from students, retirees and Fiona Apple
Called court watchers, these volunteers are participants in a nationwide grass-roots effort to hold the judges, police and prosecutors of America accountable. Although they have existed in dozens of cities across the nation for years, operating mostly independently, the strain of the pandemic pushed the disparate groups to band together. Led by the founders of Court Watch PG — two formerly incarcerated Black women — the groups are now pushing for greater visibility of their work and greater transparency in the courtroom.

Healthcare Conditions in Corrections

Sun Herald: Mississippi law will ban shackling inmates during childbirth
Mississippi will join a growing number of states and the federal government in banning the use of restraints on women giving birth in a jail or prison. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday signed House Bill 196, the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act." It will become law July 1. It says leg restraints and handcuffs cannot be used on an inmate who is pregnant or in labor unless a jail or prison employee believes she may harm herself, the fetus or any other person, or unless she is believed to be a flight risk.

Northern Kentucky Tribune: The Rural Blog: Overcrowding, lack of resources spur rural-jail death spike; incarceration is ‘catch-all’
America’s smallest jails have some of the highest death rates in the nation, spurred by overcrowding and lack of resources. One reason for rural jail population spikes: even overcrowded jails are increasingly taking in populations from elsewhere to make money. Roughly 80 percent of jails around the country rented out bed space in 2013 to other counties, federal agencies like the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or state prison systems. This especially bloats jail populations in rural areas: In 2013, 46 percent of people in rural southern jails were being held for other jurisdictions.

Truthout: The US’s Biggest County Jails Are Sites of Extreme Environmental Injustice
According to data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice screening tool, those detained in Los Angeles County's Men’s Central Jail are situated closer to toxic wastewater and hazardous waste than 96 percent of the country. Their lifetime cancer risk from the inhalation of air toxics is in the 100th percentile, meaning there is virtually no place in the country where it’s higher. Men’s Central’s proximity to extreme toxicity isn’t an anomaly. A Grist analysis of the 11 jails in the three biggest county jail systems in America — Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago — found that people residing within or surrounding eight of these facilities are in the 90th percentile or higher for pollution-related cancer risk, respiratory hazards, and diesel pollution exposure.

Abortion In Prison

The Neighbor: Corrections official resigns in protest over decision to deny inmate's abortion
A Nebraska corrections official has resigned over the department's denial of an inmate's request for an abortion, calling the decision "reprehensible," and both morally and legally wrong. Hayden Thomas, who had served as the Americans With Disabilities Act coordinator with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services since 2019, said it was clear that the woman had a constitutional right to access an abortion, but the agency chose to ignore case law.

The Neighbor: Judge grants Nebraska inmate's request to be transported for abortion
A federal judge Monday granted a Nebraska prison inmate's emergency request for an abortion, ordering state prison officials to transport her to a clinic Tuesday so she can have the procedure. The state had refused the inmate's request, prompting the woman — identified as "Jane Roe" — to file a federal civil rights lawsuit Friday. The Nebraska Attorney General's Office, in a settlement agreement with the ACLU of Nebraska, which filed the lawsuit, agreed to provide the transportation. But the Attorney General's Office stipulated that the compromise did not mean the state agreed that the inmate's medical rights had been violated.

Opioid Epidemic

Penn Medicine: Medication access for opioid use disorder lower among those in criminal justice system
Numerous clinical studies have shown that medications for OUD — specifically, methadone or buprenorphine — lead to superior outcomes for retention in treatment, reduced illicit opioid use, and decreased opioid-related overdose rates and serious acute care compared with treatments that rely on psychosocial interventions alone. However, due to a number of barriers, including access to health insurance, access to medications for OUD for those on parole, formerly incarcerated, or recently arrested remain significantly lower than the general population.

NC Policy Watch: To combat opioid overdose deaths, state officials try medication-assisted therapy with select NC inmates
Doctors who treat people with opioid addictions often hear of former patients who have to restart their treatment after leaving jail or prison. Or worse, their former patients die of drug overdoses soon after their release. “They go back using what they’re used to,” said Dr. Eric Morse, an addiction medicine specialist in Raleigh. “They can’t tolerate that dose and they die.” A study of former North Carolina prison inmates found their risk of overdose deaths after release was 40 times higher than the general population. Specialists who prescribe federally approved medications for opioid addiction have tried for years to convince jails and prisons to allow their patients to continue taking them while incarcerated. So far, doctors have been frustrated.

Corrections 1: What is the most common mistake made when treating withdrawal in a correctional facility?
Many have the erroneous belief that opioid withdrawal does not kill patients the way that alcohol withdrawal does and that, therefore, “cold turkey” withdrawal is ok. This, of course, is wrong. Patients have the potential to slide downhill rapidly. The potential benefits of starting treatment far, far outweigh any potential liability.

Fox 42: COVID-19 pandemic fuels record-high drug overdose deaths
Early government data confirmed the worst fears that the COVID-19 pandemic fueled the drug addiction crisis and opioid deaths skyrocketed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported preliminary data that 88,295 people died from a drug overdose in the months between August 2019 and 2020, marking a 27% increase over the previous year. Opioids and synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, drove the most fatalities. The new drug overdose data from the pandemic showed people in the prime of their lives were dying at the highest rate.

Bail Reform

Public Policy Institute of California: New Bail Ruling Could Affect Tens of Thousands of Californians
The California Supreme Court recently issued a unanimous ruling that it is unconstitutional to require arrestees to pay bail to secure their release if they cannot afford it. Depending on how courts interpret the ruling, the use of bail could be substantially curtailed with tens of thousands of Californians affected. To impose bail, judges will need “clear and convincing” evidence that the arrestee is a flight or public safety risk—and that this risk cannot be addressed through other release conditions, such as electronic monitoring, check-ins with a pretrial officer, or enrollment in drug and alcohol treatment programs. In addition, bail must be set at an amount the arrestee can reasonably afford.

Solitary Confinement

The Crime Report: Colorado Bill Proposes Curbs on Use of Solitary in Jails
A bill tabled in the Colorado legislature would require jails to keep adults and youth with certain medical and mental health conditions out of solitary confinement, following in the footsteps of existing prison legislation with strict isolation rules. Despite the fact that Colorado banned the use of long-term solitary confinement in state prisons in 2017, advocates have pointed the scant oversight over local jails who employ the practice.

Prison Closure

AP : California to shut 2nd prison as inmate population dwindles
A decade after prison crowding forced California to realign its criminal justice system, the population in what once was the nation’s largest state correctional system has shrunk to the point where officials announced they will close one of two inmate firefighter training centers.

Private Prisons and Correctional Healthcare Vendors

The Finance Info: Barclays criticized for underwriting US private prison deal
Barclays has attracted criticism for underwriting a bond offering by the US company CoreCivic to fund the building of two new private prisons, in a new dispute over Wall Street’s relationship with the controversial sector. The UK-based bank said two years ago that it would stop financing private prison companies, but the commitment did not extend to helping them obtain financing from public and private markets.

AP: Lawyers say Arizona’s fine over prison care could reach $23M
Lawyers representing Arizona prisoners say a third round of contempt of court fines against the state for failing to improve health care for incarcerated people could reach as high as $23 million. Over the last several years, corrections officials have been dogged by complaints that they have dragged their feet in fulfilling the state’s promises made in the settlement, which now covers about 30,000 inmates in Arizona’s 10 state-run prisons. In 2018, a magistrate judge imposed a $1.4 million contempt fine for noncompliance against the state that was reimbursed by Corizon, which at the time was the state’s prison health care contractor. Corrections officials have declined to say whether they would try to pass along the costs of a third fine to Centurion of Arizona, the state’s current contractor.

Yahoo: Michigan prison healthcare to be slashed under new contract, competitor claims
Corizon Health which is currently provides health care and pharmacy services for Michigan's 27 prisons says a competitor that's poised to take over the contract will "slash" staffing and bring "dramatic cuts to mental health services." State Administrative Board could give final approval to a new $590-million, five-year deal to Grand Prairie Healthcare Services. Grand Prairie has offered the state 16% fewer physicians, 14% fewer mid-level practitioners and 29% fewer psychiatrists than Corizon offered. Wellpath, which describes itself as the nation's largest provider of correctional health care, is the Tennessee-based Grand Prairie's "management services organization".