Weekly Update: March 15, 2022

COCHS' Weekly Update: March 15, 2022

Highlighted Stories

The City: Manhattan Lawmaker Takes Aim at 1960s Law That Blocks Medicaid Funds for Psych Care
As New York struggles to get treatment to people with serious mental illness, one barrier hasn’t budged: Medicaid is forbidden from covering long-term stays for most patients receiving mental health or substance abuse treatment in a facility with over 16 beds. But under a bill recently introduced in Albany by State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan). It would require the state health commissioner to seek a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to make payments for long-term stays at large mental health institutions.

AJPH: Toward Improved Addiction Treatment Quality and Access for Black Patients
From disparities in COVID-19 risks and fatality rates, to alarming increases in overdose rates, to significant stress and anxiety caused by racial unrest, Black Americans have been at the epicenter of colliding epidemics, pandemics, and mental health stressors. Previous research also demonstrates the deficiencies in appropriate care for Black communities and patients. A 2018 Florida study found that Black Americans experienced significant delays in entry to addiction treatment (four to five years) compared with White Americans, leading to greater severity of symptoms and increased overdose rates.

Washington State Legislature: HB 1412 - Provide Relief from Legal Financial Obligations for Low-Income People
Legislation to allow judges to waive legal financial obligations for those unable to pay them passed the Washington House of Representatives today with a vote of 70-24. Legal financial obligations (LFOs) are fines, fees, costs, and restitution that people with criminal convictions must pay as a part of their sentence. Unfortunately, for people without the ability to pay, they can create significant barriers to reentry. House Bill 1412 is sponsored by Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton), the first formerly incarcerated state representative in Washington history.

LAW 360: Can New York's Tangled Court System Be Fixed?
During a joint public hearing before judiciary committees in November 2019, New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks held a sheet of paper with a printed-out diagram made of boxes and arrows, and looked at lawmakers. "This confusing, jumbled mess is our court system," Judge Marks said. A 2020 study of New York courts' practices concluded there is a "second-class system of justice for people of color" and denounced a "demeaning cattle-call culture" in state courts, particularly in New York City's housing, family, civil and criminal courts.

COVID-19 in Corrections

Daily News: NY state prison chief under fire from families of people who died behind bars from COVID and violence
The acting head of New York’s state prison system is under fire from relatives of prisoners who have died in custody for botching his response to COVID and allowing a climate of violence to fester. Relatives of 10 men who died in state prison sent a letter last week to state Senate leaders pressing to block the permanent appointment of Anthony Annucci as commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Community Services.

San Diego Union Tribune: Judge declines to order sheriff to improve COVID-19 protections in San Diego County jails
Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil has upheld his tentative ruling from last week and rejected a plea to issue an injunction that would have forced the San Diego Sheriff’s Department to do more to protect people in county jail from COVID-19. The judge's tentative ruling from last week indicated the Sheriff’s Department was reasonably responding to the public health threat in its jails. Plaintiffs wanted the judge to order the Sheriff’s Department to comply with federal guidelines pertaining to COVID-19 prevention inside congregate living settings like jails, nursing homes and hospitals, which are especially vulnerable to the virus.

NPR: As COVID spread in federal prisons, many at-risk inmates tried and failed to get out
As of early March, officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) say 287 federal inmates have died from COVID-19, a count that does not include deaths in privately managed prisons. Bureau officials have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic that they have a plan to keep the situation under control, but an NPR analysis of federal prison death records suggests a far different story.

Portland Press Herald: Federal pandemic aid targets health concerns at county jail and in the community
Cumberland County (ME) officials plan to spend nearly $17 million in federal pandemic aid on a slew of projects and programs, including improvements to the jail, courthouse and downtown Portland arena. Much of the spending targets problems that were exposed or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including inadequate medical facilities and staffing shortages at the Cumberland County Jail.

Rikers Island

New York Times: Watchdog Sees Cover-Up in Failure to Report Rikers Island Beatings
Louis A. Molina, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, was harshly criticized on Tuesday by a jails oversight panel for his agency’s failure to document two brutal beatings that occurred on Rikers Island last year. During a meeting of the city’s Board of Correction, panel members demanded answers about the incidents, which left one man paralyzed and landed another in a coma.

The City: Security Scramble at COVID Rikers-Release Hotel Where Woman Alleged Sexual Assault
In the early months of the COVID pandemic, as the virus spread like wildfire through New York City, the de Blasio administration began placing inmates released from Rikers and state prisons into hotels. The point was to keep them safe — and to curb the spread of the virus. But did City Hall implement adequate safeguards to protect the released inmates from non-COVID dangers? One former inmate alleges she was sexually assaulted in August 2020, while staying at a hotel involved in the program

Juveniles Incarcerated As Adults

New York Times: We’ve Tried Juveniles as Adults Before. The Results Were Catastrophic.
Examining get-tough approaches for juveniles, researchers found that people under age 18 who were placed in adult facilities were much more likely to be sexually assaulted than older inmates. They were also five times as likely to kill themselves as young people in juvenile detention. And they were significantly more likely to commit a violent crime after their release. There were also racial disparities in treatment. Nationally, Black youths were 8.6 times as likely to be held in adult facilities as their white counterparts.


gothamist: NJ had one of largest prison population drops in the U.S., study finds
New Jersey’s prison population fell by one-third last year, making it among the leaders of decarceration efforts during the pandemic, according to a new report. The study by the national nonprofit criminal justice reform group looked at the number of incarcerated people at the end of 2019 through 2021, finding an overall 16% decline in population, nationally. But while states like New Jersey and New York continued to decrease their inmate counts throughout the pandemic by the Vera Institute of Justice., other states added to their numbers after an initial drop.


The City: Big Changes to Parole Are Here. How Will ‘Less is More’ Hold Up?
For decades, New York state law allowed parole officers to toss people back into jail for low-level infractions like missing a curfew or having marijuana in their system. When it comes to jailing parolees across the nation, New York has been an outlier. The state returns more people to jail for technical parole violations and drug treatment than any other in the U.S.

Solitary Confinement

Psychiatric Times: Health and Solitary Confinement: History and Background
In October 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez, called for an absolute ban on SC lasting more than 15 days: “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture." Because solitary confinement goes by many different names (eg, security housing units; restricted housing; administrative, protective, or disciplinary segregation; isolation), it has been difficult to say how many individuals are in this highly restrictive placement. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 2011 to 2012, 20% of individuals in US jails and prisons spent time in SC during their incarceration.

Public Safety

Washington Post: The hidden billion dollar cost of repeated police misconduct
Officers whose conduct was at issue in more than one payment accounted for more than $1.5 billion, or nearly half of the money spent by the departments to resolve allegations. In some cities, officers repeatedly named in misconduct claims accounted for an even larger share. The typical payout for cases involving officers with multiple claims — ranging from illegal search and seizure to use of excessive force — was $10,000 higher than those involving other officers. Despite the repetition and cost, few cities or counties track claims by the names of the officers involved — meaning that officials may be unaware of officers whose alleged misconduct is repeatedly costing taxpayers.

Sexual Abuse

WCVB: Former corrections officer at Massachusetts prison faces charge in inmate sex case
A former correctional officer in Massachusetts is facing a criminal charge after allegedly preying upon an inmate with mental health issues who was abused in a foster home as a child. The inmate, Nathan Williams, suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse as a foster child, and he said a female correctional officer knew his history and groomed him for money.

VT Digger: Ex-sheriff’s deputy, accused of trading money for sex and nude photos, reaches plea deal
A former deputy with the Caledonia County Sheriff’s Department, accused of soliciting sex and nude photos from women he encountered as an officer in exchange for money, has reached a plea deal that will allow him to avoid jail. Stephen Bunnell, 47, pleaded guilty Monday in Caledonia County Superior criminal court in St. Johnsbury to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct by phone and prohibited conduct.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

KTLO: Without trial or treatment, inmates spend months in local jails waiting for state hospital bed
People with mental health issues who are arrested are often left to languish in county jails in this state for a year or more waiting on beds to become available at the Arkansas State Hospital. Most of the inmates are under court orders to receive in-patient treatment after being found not fit to proceed, and/or not criminally responsible for their acts. They are in the custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS), since the Arkansas State Hospital (ASH) is one of the operating divisions of the agency.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Jackson Sun: State officials tour jail expansion, tout its expected ability to help with mental health issues
Senators, commissioners, and mental health organizations saw firsthand on Friday how the expanded Madison County (TN) Criminal Justice Complex will impact the community. The focal point of this new facility is "mental health." Madison County received a grant in the amount of $3.1 million in 2017 to ensure mental health would be a focus of the expanded jail. The requirement to receive this grant was to have a 20-bed facility that caters to possible mental health issues. The new facility will have a section geared toward mental health only.

Prison Contractors

Dissent: How Corporations Turned Prison Tablets Into a Predatory Scheme
JPay made its first foray into prison tablets in 2012, when several facilities began to give incarcerated individuals the option to purchase devices for $140. Running on a modified version of Android, JPay tablets do not have direct access to the web—to download music and videos, or send an email, users have to hook them up to designated “kiosks” inside the prison. Both JPay and GTL charge prisoners at every step of the communication process: In New York, each email sent or received requires a “stamp,” which costs $0.25—twice that if the message exceeds 6,000 characters.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

The Record Eagle: New health provider starts at GTC jail
It's week two of a new medical, mental and psychiatric health provider (County Health Support Services) for the Grand Traverse County jail and things are still a little chaotic. The company was chosen by a committee of those who work in the county's corrections division because it offered a different type of model, using providers who work in the community. Committee members felt that would give inmates continuity of care once they leave the jail.

Washington Post: Arlington jail personnel, health-care provider are sued over death
When Darryl Becton was brought into the Arlington, Va., jail, according to a lawsuit filed by his family, he told staffers he was coming off opioids and had high blood pressure and heart problems. But, the lawsuit says, he was ignored for hours as he underwent severe withdrawal, left to die a cell. The NAACP, says the county has failed to properly address problems. Seven men of color have died in the Arlington County Detention Facility in the past seven years. The most recent death came last month, after Corizon’s departure.