Weekly Update: April 13, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: April 13, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The New York Times: Incarcerated and Infected: How The Virus Tore Through the U.S. Prison System
In an overview detailing the impact of COVID-19 in corrections, The New York Times has published maps of COVID-19 rates of infections and mortality in federal and state facilities as well as these same statistics in county jails.

National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice: Impact Report: COVID-19 Testing in State Prisons
This report explores the potential relationship between COVID-19 testing rates and COVID-19 infection and mortality outcomes across the 32 state prison systems where information necessary to conduct such an analysis was publicly available. The report also describes how four states (Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, and Vermont) conducted mass testing, and details outcomes for their incarcerated populations.

The New York Times: Covid-19: Infections Among U.S. Prisoners Have Been Triple Those of Other Americans
Americaís prisons, jails and detention centers have been among the nationís most dangerous places during the pandemic. Over the past year, more than 1,400 new inmate infections and seven deaths, on average, have been reported inside those facilities each day. The cramped, often unsanitary settings have been ideal for incubating and transmitting disease. Social distancing is not an option. Testing was not a priority inside prisons early in the pandemic. The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Impact of COVID-19 on the Local Jail Population, January-June 2020
This report describes the impact of COVID-19 on the local jail population during the 6-month period from January to June 2020, including the impact on the release of jail inmates, admissions to jails, jail capacity, and incarceration rates. It includes data on COVID-19 tests and data on confirmed and suspected deaths due to COVID-19 among jail inmates and staff.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

Pharmacy Times: Study Finds Significant Vaccine Distrust Among Incarcerated Populations
Fewer than half of inmates in jails and prisons surveyed for a new study said that they would accept a COVID-19 vaccine, whereas the majority either said they wanted to wait before getting a vaccine or would refuse one, according to a press release. The study, conducted by the CDC and researchers at the University of Washington (UW), was published on the CDCís Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The investigators surveyed more than 5000 inmates, both men and women, in late 2020 from 3 prisons and 13 jails in Washington, California, Florida, and Texas.

VT Digger: Corrections chief not happy with number of inmates declining Covid-19 vaccinations
Vermont's interim corrections commissioner, James Baker, told lawmakers Wednesday he is concerned and not happy with the number of prison inmates who have been offered the Covid-19 vaccine but have refused to take it. He said 585 incarcerated individuals have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and 206 have refused to be vaccinated. The total inmate population is 1,234. He said initial feedback revealed that some prisoners had trust issues with the corrections department and others were not happy that a two-shot vaccine was being offered, rather than the one-shot Johnson & Johnson.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Just 7% of Wisconsin prisoners have received COVID-19 vaccine, despite outcry over inmates being prioritized
Even as Wisconsin has expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to everyone 16 and older, one group is lagging far behind others: prisoners. Fewer than 1,400 prisoners in the state had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, even though state officials prioritized inmates for vaccine access due to concerns about widespread outbreaks in prisons.

ABC News: As states expand vaccines, prisoners still lack access
This week, Florida expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all residents 16 and older. But across the state, more than 70,000 people still don’t have access to the vaccine. Those men and women are Florida state prisoners. Nationwide, less than 20% of state and federal prisoners have been vaccinated. And it's not just the prisoners. Public health experts widely agree that people who live and work in correctional facilities face an increased risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus. Since the pandemic first reached prisons in March 2020, about 3 in 10 prisoners have tested positive and 2,500 have died.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: ‘A turning point’: Thousands in Pa. prisons will be offered COVID-19 vaccine
All people who live and work inside Pennsylvania’s prisons will soon be offered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, ending a long wait exacerbated by a lack of transparency about coronavirus infections. At least 11 of the state’s 23 prisons have started to receive the vaccine, with thousands of inmates and corrections staff expected to be offered a shot in coming weeks, according to corrections officials and incarcerated people.

News 4 Jax: Florida plans to vaccinate more than 30,000 inmates
Nearly 33,000 Florida inmates say they want a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Florida Department of Health. Public health officials say they intend to offer the vaccine to state prisoners within the next two weeks. While state prisons work to distribute vaccines across state and privately-operated prisons, county officials have already begun the process of vaccinating people incarcerated at their county detention centers. The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office and local health department already offered the vaccine to inmates with medical conditions and those older than 50. This time, they were offering it to any inmates older than 17.

COVID-19 Voices of Incarcerated People

The New York Times: I’m Incarcerated. This Is My Covid Lockdown Story.
I was in my prison cell in upstate New York one afternoon in mid-January when someone called out, “Suits walking!” The Sullivan Correctional Facility superintendent, a gray-haired man in his 60s named William Keyser, had come into the cell block with a mask strapped to his face, accompanied by a pair of deputies. Now he stood in the belly of the block in his suit and tie, pulled down his mask and announced that he was putting us under quarantine.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

The Oregonian: 15 inmates who contracted COVID-19 at Inverness Jail sue Multnomah County and sheriff
Fifteen inmates who contracted COVID-19 while at Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail are suing the county and Sheriff Mike Reese, alleging they were negligent by not taking proper safety precautions, denying testing and mixing infected inmates and guards with those who were healthy in jail dorms.

Reentry and Medicaid

The New-Enterprise: Celebrating bills aimed at life after jail terms
NAACP Kentucky State Conference President Marcus Ray of Elizabethtown joined Gov. Andy Beshear, Rep. Kim Moser and others from the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition for a virtual bill signing ceremony of House Bill 497 and Senate Bill 84. House Bill 497, sponsored by Moser, removes barriers to reentry for those exiting the corrections system. The bill provides formerly incarcerated Kentuckians with necessary documentation, photo ID, health insurance through Medicaid and resume assistance to move forward with their life. The bill also creates incentive programs for companies to become “fair chance” employers.

Healthcare in Corrections

WHYY: 40% of incarcerated people have chronic conditions — how good is the health care they get behind bars?
Adnan Khan spent 16 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, he runs Re:Store Justice, an advocacy organization he founded while behind bars that works to end extreme sentencing. According to Khan, health and incarceration are just at odds. Distrust of the health care system was common among the people he served time with. There was even a joke many of them had about ibuprofen — the idea being that no matter how dire the medical issue was, doctors would simply prescribe the anti-inflammatory drug, and that would be the extent of the care.

The North Plate Telegraph: Nebraska prison inmate sues state after being blocked from getting an abortion
A Nebraska prison inmate sued the state on Friday, saying that her right to obtain an abortion has been unconstitutionally blocked by prison officials and that she needs the procedure by next week. The woman, who was identified as "Jane Roe" in the lawsuit, had offered, through her family, to pay the costs of the medical procedure, as well as the transportation and security expenses from the state's women's prison in York to a clinic in Lincoln. “State officials are barring a woman from getting an abortion and forcing her to remain pregnant against her will. It’s wrong and it’s unlawful,” said Scout Richters, a lawyer for the ACLU of Nebraska.

The Seattle Times: Next Corrections leader must repair prison health care
The editorial board of the Seattle Times writes: Last week, the state Office of Corrections Ombuds released a report that highlights the prison system’s latest reprehensible indifference toward the health of people in state custody. This time, delayed cancer treatments led to serious and deadly consequences. The report analyzed the cases of 11 incarcerated people, ages 35 to 68, whose cancer diagnoses and treatments were delayed by an average of 6.5 months after initial complaints. World Health Organization guidelines say cancer diagnosis ought to come within a month of symptoms. Washington’s prison medical staff apparently made that impossible. Just days after the draft report on the disturbing delays for cancer treatment landed on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair announced his May 1 early retirement.

News 4 Oklahoma: Mother claims son received inadequate medical care at Oklahoma County Jail
The mother of an inmate inside the Oklahoma County Jail claims her son did not receive medical treatment in a timely manner with an abscess he has been battling burst inside his cell. “If it bursts, he could die,” said Jeanette Wilson, a nurse. Wilson also reported her son hasn’t had a shower in days, has dealt with bed bugs and is forced to sleep on the floor of his cell. These allegations were confirmed in an Oklahoma State Department of Health inspection report.

Opioid Epidemic

National Academy of Medicine: Guide for Future Directions for the Addiction and OUD Treatment Ecosystem
The epidemic of drug, and especially opioid-related, overdose deaths has been declared a national public health emergency since 2017. What is needed to turn the tide of this epidemic is a long-term, sustainable approach to preventing and managing addiction as a chronic disease that will replace America’s current approach of lurching from one crisis to the next. The effects of drug use, ill-informed drug policies, addiction, and overdose continue to devastate people across the United States—particularly Black, Latinx, Native Ameri-can, LGBTQ+, and other traditionally marginalized communities.

Fore: Issue Brief: Promoting Equity in Access to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment and Supports: A Focus on Black Communities
In recent years, the gap in the rate of opioid overdoses among Black and white Americans has narrowed significantly, with increases in Black mortality driven in part by the addition of synthetic opioids to other drugs. Despite the more pressing need for treatment, Black Americans have less access to treatment with buprenorphine than white Americans. In a new issue brief, three FORE grantees — Helena Hansen, M.D., Ph.D., Ayana Jordan, M.D., Ph.D., and Hansel Tookes, M.D., M.P.H. — describe how they are working to identify gaps in care and promising approaches to close them.

Politico: Telehealth Shouldn’t Mean 'Videohealth' for Opioid Treatment
In an op-ed, Utsha G. Khatri And Elizabeth A. Samuels, wrote: In December of last year, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 2.0, which proposes much-needed policy reforms and funding mechanisms to address the ongoing opioid crisis, was introduced in the Senate. Among the changes are a proposed permanent expansion to permit buprenorphine treatment after an initial telehealth consultation. But the requirement to be on video is a significant barrier to care. Due to structural racial and economic inequities, inadequate broadband and internet infrastructure, low digital literacy and health system barriers, audiovisual telehealth is not widely accessible.

VT Digger: House backs bill decriminalizing opioid treatment drug
The Vermont House on Thursday backed legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of buprenorphine, a prescription drug used to treat opioid dependence. By a vote of 126-19, the House advanced the bill, which would allow people to possess up to 224 milligrams of the substance — or about two weeks’ worth of a prescription — even if they don’t have a doctor’s permission. Possessing buprenorphine in Vermont is currently a misdemeanor crime, though legislators say cases are rarely prosecuted. The drug is commonly prescribed as Suboxone or Subutex.

Technology Initiatives and Racial Disparities

VT Digger: Legislators want new data system to understand where racial disparities begin
A new bill, H.317, would establish a Bureau of Racial Justice Statistics, with a related advisory panel, to find out where the racial disparities are in Vermont’s criminal justice system and how to address them. The legislation establishes two distinct entities — one to collect data, and the other to analyze it. The bureau would collect a huge amount of data in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems. The bureau would then figure out where in these systems racial bias and disparities are most likely to occur. It would be required to maintain a public-facing website to ensure transparency and maximize the public’s ability to understand the information being collected.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Sacramento Bee: Sacramento County must stop torturing mentally ill jail inmates with solitary confinement
The editorial board of the Sacramento Bee writes: Sacramento County has repeatedly failed to come up with a plan to expand its mental health resources and better manage inmates suffering from serious mental illnesses at its jails. In the absence of leadership from the Board of Supervisors, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office continues to confine scores of prisoners in a form of extreme isolation called “total separation.” The conditions are immoral and inhuman, regardless of whether these inmates are dangerous criminals.

Health Day: Jail Dims Hopes for Recovery for Young People With Mental Illness
Being jailed puts teens with untreated psychiatric disorders at increased risk for long-term mental health struggles. Nearly two-thirds of males and more than one-third of females still had one or more mental health disorders 15 years after being jailed. Disruptive behavior and addiction disorders were the most common. Compared with females, males had a more than tripled risk for a persisting psychiatric disorder.

Mental Health Initiatives in Corrections

Rome New Tribune: NAMI creating support group sessions for jail's mental health unit
Floyd County Jail is partnering with the local National Association on Mental Illness chapter to provide mental health services to their inmates. The mental health of inmates has been a longstanding concern over the last 10 years, since the closing of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in 2011. Thanks to a $5.2 million earmark in the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package, the sheriff’s office has been able to completely renovate the jail medical wing and begin on the new mental health unit.

Transgender Inmates

Los Angeles Times: California prisons grapple with hundreds of transgender inmates requesting new housing
SB 132 took effect Jan. 1. It gave transgender, intersex and nonbinary inmates the right, regardless of anatomy, to choose whether to be housed in a male or female prison. 261 requests for transfers have been made since SB 132 took effect. But more than two hours away, at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, there’s fear. Inmates say guards have warned them that “men are coming” and to expect sexual violence. The prison system said that it has provided training to staffers statewide on working with transgender, intersex and nonbinary inmates, including information on safe housing, search procedures and pronoun usage.

ABC News: Transgender woman seeks transfer from Georgia men's prison
A transgender woman held in a Georgia men's prison says she has been sexually assaulted repeatedly and denied necessary medical treatment and that prison officials retaliated against her after she filed complaints and a lawsuit. Lawyers for Ashley Diamond asked a federal judge in court filings Friday to order prison officials to transfer her to a women's prison to keep her safe from sexual victimization by male inmates, to provide her with medical treatment necessary for her gender dysphoria and to stop retaliating against her.

Private Prisons

Alabama Today: Tennessee contractor forced to go outside U.S. to finance Kay Ivey’s prison lease contracts
Barclays Bank agreed to raise $634 million toward the private construction of two prisons, one in Elmore County and one in Escambia County, Alabama. Governor Ivey signed contracts Feb. 1 to lease the two prisons for 30 years. Jim Zeigler, the state auditor, who is a vocal opponent of the prison lease plan, says promoters of the plan “were forced to go outside the United States because U.S. banks that do this type lending decided they would no longer finance the private prison business.” State taxpayers will be on the hook for rent payments starting at $94 million a year and going up to $106 million a year. Zeigler says the debt would be to a shell corporation totally owned by Tennessee private prison operator CoreCivic — Government Real Estate Solutions of Alabama Holdings LLC. Two years ago, banking giants Bank of America, JPChase, and Wells Fargo announced they would no longer finance private prisons because of problems in the private prison business.

FOX 59: Report finds Marion County Jail II was unprepared for February blackout
A report compiled by the Marion County Sheriffs Office found that CoreCivic, the private company hired to operate Jail II at 730 East Washington Street, was unprepared for a blackout that struck the five-story building before dawn on February 22. 28 inmates were injured either due to accidents or assaults in the dark before full power was restored more than 90 minutes later. According to a chronology of events released in the hours after the crisis, MCSO reported its civilian jail liaison staffer with Jail II was not advised of the outage for 21 minutes, resulting in the first sheriff’s deputy arriving on the scene at 3:45 a.m., 51 minutes after the electricity failed. “The failure was totally falling on CoreCivic not notifying of it,” said Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal.