Weekly Update: May 4, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: May 04, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The New England Journal of Medicine: Vaccination plus Decarceration — Stopping Covid-19 in Jails and Prisons
Reliance on vaccination alone seems unlikely to achieve necessary reductions in Covid-19 transmission in incarcerated populations. To protect the safety of incarcerated people, guards, and the general public, health experts have long called for large-scale decarceration. Fortunately, we already have strong evidence for a policy tool that can stop the spread of Covid-19 in jails and prisons: decarceration. Decarceration consists of large-scale releases of people who pose no public-safety risk, increased use of home confinement, ending of pretrial detention for persons held because they cannot afford cash bail, and noncarceral management of people arrested for alleged offenses that do not suggest ongoing threats to public safety.

Springer Link: Prison Population Reductions and COVID-19: A Latent Profile Analysis Synthesizing Recent Evidence From the Texas State Prison System
This is the first study to examine COVID-19 cases in a statewide prison system. We found that the majority of prisons in Texas were characterized by low levels of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and incarcerated residents. Additionally, the level of overcrowding in the low-outbreak prisons was moderate with a current population to capacity ratio of 85%. This suggests that the benchmark for prisons to effectively reduce COVID-19 infections should be set to under 85% of capacity. Importantly, this 85% standard should be implemented as an absolute minimum rate, with further reductions for high-risk geriatric and medical facilities.

Health Affairs: Addiction Should Be Treated, Not Penalized
In an op-ed, Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), writes: Black Americans have experienced worse outcomes during the pandemic, continue to die at a greater rate than White Americans, and also suffer disproportionately from a wide range of other acute and chronic illnesses. These disparities are particularly stark in the field of substance use and substance use disorders, where entrenched punitive approaches have exacerbated stigma and made it hard to implement appropriate medical care. Abundant data show that Black people and other communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by decades of addressing drug use as a crime rather than as a matter of public health.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Rehab vs. jail: Saves money and lives
The editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes: Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic claimed about 12 lives a day in 2019. If drug users are aware that there are options other than incarceration, they may be more willing to seek help. In 2018, Attorney General Josh Shapiro started the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative. This program offers a lifeline to those who have hit rock bottom and are looking to turn their lives around. It could save the commonwealth a significant amount of money by diverting residents from being incarcerated.

Brookings Institute: A better path forward for criminal justice: Changing prisons to help people change
The entire prison experience can jeopardize the personal characteristics required to be effective partners, parents, and employees. Many psychologists believe that changing unwanted or negative behaviors requires changing thinking patterns since thoughts and feelings affect behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) emerged as a psycho-social intervention that helps people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions. Since criminal behavior is driven partly by certain thinking patterns that predispose individuals to commit crimes or engage in illegal activities, CBT helps people with criminal records change their attitudes and gives them tools to avoid risky situations.

Washington Post: Prolonged solitary confinement is torture. It’s time for all states to ban it.
In an op-ed, Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project, and Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, write: With the passage of the Halt Solitary Confinement Act, New York became the first state to codify the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela rules, which ban the use of solitary confinement after 15 consecutive days. This is incredible progress for New York, but work cannot stop there. Banning torture in any one state is simply not enough. Before the onset of covid-19, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people were held in solitary each day in U.S. jails and prisons — a number approximately equal to or greater than the total prison populations of many large countries. Solitary is a microcosm of the ways U.S. prisons and jails are set up to dehumanize and traumatize people, without the slightest concern for their rehabilitation, their ability to reenter society, their well-being or the well-being of their families.

Racial Disparities

Lewis and Clark Law Review: Black Crime Victims ‘Systematically Excluded’ from Victim Rights Efforts
In a paper entitled, Inconspicuous Victims, Italy Ravid writes: Recent debates on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system focus on offenders while neglecting the other side of the criminal equation—victims of crime. Recent debates on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system focus on offenders while neglecting the other side of the criminal equation—victims of crime. Through the ideal victim framework, I argue that from the early days of the victims’ rights movement to the present, Black victims have been considered non-ideal victims and, as such, unworthy of institutional and legal recognition. I further claim that the media has had an important role in such a social construction of the ideal white victim.

Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment: Differential impacts of COVID-19 across racial-ethnic identities in persons with opioid use disorder
In a study that recruited its sample from a drug treatment setting in the northeast region of the United States, a survey was conducted of 110 individuals on methadone as treatment for OUD and assessed COVID-19-related impacts on their health behaviors. The findings highlight overall increases in depression, anxiety, loneliness, and frustration. Significant differences between groups indicated a greater financial burden among racial-ethnic minorities; this subgroup also reported greater direct adverse effects of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

California Healthline: Some County Jail Inmates See Vaccination as Ticket to a Better Life — In the State Pen
Many people who have been convicted and sentenced to long terms in state prison are eager to get there. But because of covid, transfers from county jails to the state prison system have slowed significantly in the past year. Jails and prisons have been virtual covid petri dishes: The infection rate among the nation’s prisoners is more than five times higher, and the mortality rate three times higher, than among the general population. Among the Los Angeles County inmates who agreed to be vaccinated, a common incentive was that they believed it would get them to state prison sooner.

COVID-19 Impact on Corrections Post Pandemic

KQED: The Lasting Impact of COVID-19 in San Quentin State Prison
Last summer, confirmed COVID-19 cases ballooned inside San Quentin State Prison. Now, with many incarcerated people and staff now vaccinated, infections are very low and the worst of the outbreak seems to be over. But the programs that many relied on before the pandemic still haven't returned — and incarcerated people are still coping with the scars of a traumatizing year.

Corrections 1: Post-pandemic mental health challenges for correctional staff and inmates: What leaders should know
For individuals working in correctional settings, most of whom cannot work remotely, the stress of potential daily exposure to the coronavirus and, by extension, the risk this posed to their families, has created a range of mental health issues. For the incarcerated population, there have been lengthy lockdowns during staffing crises, resulting in increased isolation and changes in service delivery. Additional difficulties have resulted from concerns about being able to adequately protect oneself from the virus in crowded residential conditions.

Opioid Epidemic

Stat: Biden administration will allow nearly all providers to prescribe buprenorphine
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it would move forward with a dramatic deregulation of addiction medicine first proposed by the Trump administration in January. The change would allow almost any prescriber to treat patients using the drug buprenorphine, the most effective medication for opioid addiction. Currently, doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners must undergo a separate training and apply for a waiver before they’re allowed to prescribe the drug to patients.

Chicago Tribune: Editorial: Helping jail inmates kick an opioid addiction helps us all
The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune writes: When Ron Hain was elected sheriff of Kane County in 2018, the county jail had a problem. Inmates who had been released kept dying of drug overdoses — 15 that year. Shortly after taking office, he implemented a new program to provide voluntary drug treatment to inmates who were using heroin and other opioids. Last year, he says, only one released inmate died of a drug overdose. The key here was “medication-assisted treatment,” which gives addicted inmates access to buprenorphine — an opioid used to relieve the misery of withdrawal while curbing cravings for heroin.

Corrections 1: Mich. county in-jail medication-assisted drug treatment program certified
Both the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the Monroe Community Mental Health Authority have been recognized for the county's in-jail medication assisted treatment program for inmates battling opioid addiction. The county is the first in the state to have reached full programming in treating inmates. The program starts with the Corrections' Officers screening all persons booked into our facility to identify those with an opioid addiction. From there, inmates have access to specific medications used to treat opioid abuse and psychosocial services (group/individual therapy and relapse prevention therapy). A discharge plan then ensures these individuals have therapeutic support when released back into the community.

Abuse of Power: Sheriffs, Deputies, and Police

Washington Post: New police brutality cases show the urgency of congressional action
The editorial board of the Washington Post writes: The legitimacy of policing is being challenged in ways never seen before, and that underscores the urgency of reform. Not only will it better safeguard the public, but it also will help the majority of officers who do their jobs lawfully and conscientiously. It is often too difficult under the current system to hold police accountable for misconduct. That needs to change.

Knock LA: The Protected Class
An extensive investigation into more than five decades of abuse, terror, and murder carried out by gangs within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: There are at least 18 gangs within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Deputy gangs have killed at least 19 people, all of whom were men of color. At least four of them had a mental illness. Los Angeles County keeps a list of lawsuits related to the deputy gangs. Litigation related to these cases has cost the County just over $100 million over the past 30 years.

New York Times: Georgia Sheriff Faces Civil Rights Charges Over Use of Restraint Chairs
An Atlanta-area sheriff with a history of legal troubles faces federal civil rights charges for ordering several detainees to be strapped to restraint chairs for hours at a time even though they posed no danger to deputies, prosecutors said. In an indictment that was unsealed on Monday, the sheriff, Clayton County’s Victor Hill, is charged with four criminal counts alleging that he used unreasonable force against four people who had been taken into custody last year by his office and violated their rights to due process.

ABC News: Marvin Scott's death in Texas jail ruled a homicide by medical examiner
The death of a 26-year-old Black man in custody at a Texas jail has been ruled a homicide. Marvin Scott III, of Frisco, Texas, was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge by police at an outlet mall in Allen, a suburb of northern Dallas. "He was using [marijuana] to self-medicate after being two years diagnosed with schizophrenia," Lee Merritt, a civil rights lawyer who is representing Scott’s family, told ABC News in an interview. Detention officers restrained Scott to a bed, pepper-sprayed him and covered his face with a spit mask. Scott was kept there for several hours and became unresponsive at some point.

New York Times: Three Colorado Officers Resign After Arrest of Woman With Dementia
Three members of a Colorado police department have resigned after they arrested and booked a 73-year-old woman with dementia who was thrown to the ground and handcuffed after she was suspected of shoplifting, officials said on Friday. Body-camera footage of the arrest and footage from Walmart security cameras that was released by Ms. Garner’s lawyer this month prompted widespread outrage, as did another video that showed three police officers laughing at a station as they watched the footage.

Daily Beast: Prosecutors: NYC Guard Watched Inmate Kill Himself—and Said He Was ‘Faking It’
A New York City Correction Department captain has been charged with criminally negligent homicide after an inmate hanged himself in his Manhattan jail cell and the guard refused to give him immediate help, instead telling others he was “faking it,” prosecutors claimed. Ryan Wilson, who had struggled with mental illness, told the guard, Capt. Rebecca Hillman, that he would hang himself with a noose he’d made out of a bed sheet if she didn’t let him out of his cell. Hillman allegedly ignored the threat, and Wilson ultimately hanged himself in his cell at the Manhattan Detention Complex.

Conditions in Corrections

The Square One Project: Harm Reduction at the Center of Incarcerations
The American correctional system is not a system of accountability that rehabilitates people as it purports to do. Instead, it is a system of pain and punishment with reverberating impact on the people confined there, the people who work there, and the families and communities of both. During incarceration, the experience of trauma is multiplied. A study of approximately 7,500 men and women confined in 13 U.S. prisons illuminated how harmful the prison environment is for people who are incarcerated (Wolff et al.2009). More than 35 percent of the men and 24 percent of the women reported being physically victimized by either a staff member or another person who was incarcerated in the last six months in the prison.

The NJ Journal: Medical and mental health services within the prison system: A civil rights issue
A letter to the editor of the NJ Journal requesting experiences and/or concerns regarding the treatment of people with mental health issues and the lack of medical and/or mental health services while incarcerated.

Closing Jails and Reducing Inmate Populations

13 News Now: Virginia Jail Review Committee recommends closing Hampton Roads Regional Jail
A Virginia Jail Review Committee is recommending the closure of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail saying the conditions at the facility "represent a significant public safety threat to inmates and correctional officers." In its preliminary violation findings, the committee said the jail failed to meet acceptable minimum standards for the supervision of inmates. It also said the jail failed to meet "minimum standards required for access to Twenty-Four Hour Emergency Medical and Mental Health Care."

ABC News: 76,000 California inmates now eligible for earlier releases
California is giving 76,000 inmates the opportunity to leave prison earlier as the state aims to further trim the population of what once was the nation’s largest state correctional system. The new rules take effect May 1 but it will be months or years before any inmates go free earlier. Corrections officials say the goal is to reward inmates who better themselves while critics said the move will endanger the public. Also as of Saturday, all minimum-security inmates in work camps, including those in firefighting camps, will be eligible for the same month of earlier release for every month they spend in the camp, regardless of the severity of their crime. California has been under court orders to reduce a prison population. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court backed federal judges’ requirement that the state reduce overcrowding.

ICE Detention

New York Times: After Years of Protests, a New Jersey County Ends Its ICE Jail Contract
Essex County, N.J., officials announced Wednesday that they would end their contract with ICE that provided it space at the jail, which is in Newark. Nearby counties in northern New Jersey with similar contracts appeared open to following suit. The decision follows mounting pressure from protesters and political leaders, including the state’s two U.S. senators. But in an indication of the complex political landscape surrounding immigration even in a heavily Democratic part of the state, officials emphasized that the county’s decision to end its work for ICE was entirely a financial one.

Private Prisons

6 WRBC: Lawsuit filed against Gov. Ivey seeks to stop mega-prison construction
A lawsuit filed April 27 in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeks to stop the progress on the state’s mega-prison construction plan that carries a $3 billion dollar price tag. Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn are named as defendants in the case. Ivey signed two contracts with the prison giant CoreCivic in February to build mega-prisons in Elmore and Escambia counties. With these 30-year contracts, the prisons will be operated by the Alabama Department of Corrections and maintained by CoreCivic throughout the duration of the lease. Earlier this month Barclays and KeyBanc Capital Markets withdrew as underwriters on the project. CoreCivic now faces challenges to secure funding for the prison construction. Economist Kevian Deravi says this situation could raise the interest rates on the project and ultimately the overall cost.

Independent: ‘I agree with you, gimme another five days’: Biden tells hecklers he wants to close private prisons at Georgia rally
Joe Biden paused his remarks during a rally in Georgia when a group shouted out “end detentions now” and “abolish ICE” as he started his speech. The protesters also called out “communities not cages” during the drive-in rally in Duluth on Thursday. Mr Biden responded by saying that he wants to end the use of private prisons in the US, which he pledged in an executive order that instructed the Justice Department to decline to renew contracts with private, for-profit prisons.