Weekly Update: April 28, 2020

COCHS' Weekly Update: April 28, 2020


State Health & Value Strategies: COVID-19 Resources for States
This resource page published by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs provides a link to COCHS' Establishing State and Federal Correctional Health Coordinators to respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic, which was released two weeks ago. These proposed coordinators would be charged with addressing the emergent health needs of inmates and correctional staff and protecting overall public health and public safety. In addition, coordinators would develop, monitor and coordinate the operational responses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. After the pandemic, they would maintain an ongoing role to manage public health related to corrections.

Resource Update: COCHS Interactive Map of State Department of Corrections COVID-19 Statistics
COCHS interactive map linking users to COVID-19 statistics from 45 states' correctional websites, now includes five local jurisdictions providing these data. They include from California, Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County (San Jose), Alameda County (Oakland/Berkeley); from Washington State, King County (Seattle); and from Illinois, Cook County (Chicago). In addition, there are statistics from New York City supplied by the Legal Aid Society.

COVID-19 Release of Incarcerated People

The New York Times: As Coronavirus Strikes Prisons, Hundreds of Thousands Are Released
Prisons across the world have become powerful breeding grounds for the coronavirus, prompting governments to release hundreds of thousands of inmates in a mad scramble to curb the spread of the contagion behind bars.The pandemic has also set off prisoner rebellions as angry inmates have called new attention to chronic problems in corrections systems in many countries, including overcrowding, filth and limited access to health care.

The New York Times: ‘It’s a Slap in the Face’: Victims Are Angered as Jails Free Inmates
Law enforcement officials in Massachusetts expressed concern that the state’s highest court had held a closed-door hearing on inmate releases. In Washington State, some law enforcement officials argued that a plan by the governor to grant early release to nearly 1,000 inmates could include people who had committed assault and sexual crimes. Many opponents have pointed to a case in Florida, where a Tampa man was accused of shooting and killing someone the day after he and more than 160 other inmates were freed from Hillsborough County jails last month.

Culture of Health Blog - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Incarceration Rates, A Key Measure of Health in America
As coronavirus sweeps our nation it has brought deep-seated health inequities, including those linked to incarceration, to the forefront. Overcrowding and poor sanitation are putting prisoners at risk now more than ever. Persistent, widespread reports that guards and prisoners are testing positive for COVID-19 are especially alarming, and a sobering reminder that quarantines are nearly impossible among incarcerated populations. To address this, many jurisdictions are releasing select prisoners.

The Washington Post: Amid coronavirus pandemic, federal inmates get mixed signals about home-confinement releases
The early release of about 200 federal inmates to home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic abruptly stalled earlier this week as the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department issued shifting, contradictory guidelines, interviews and documents show. Some inmates already in prerelease quarantine were returned to cells as a result, surprising families who had been contacted about the steps needed for their return. The Justice Department now says the inmates will indeed be released, though others like them might face a harder time going forward.

The Patriot Ledger: Class action suit seeks to release federal pretrial detainees from Plymouth County jail
The complaint filed last week on behalf of four pretrial federal detainees contends the facility is not following federal health guidelines for preventing the disease and is ready to explode with illness. While the jail off Long Pond Road in Plymouth currently does not have any cases of the virus, the complaint filed last week on behalf of four pretrial federal detainees contends the facility is not following federal health guidelines for preventing the disease and is ready to explode with illness.

COVID-19 Justice-Involved Population and Medicaid

Kaiser Family Foundation: States Can Use Policy Actions to Mitigate Risk and Spread of Coronavirus in Jails and Prisons
States can also use Medicaid to enhance coronavirus response efforts for the justice-involved population. Medicaid facilitates access to care for eligible individuals moving into and out of justice the system, particularly in states that have adopted the ACA Medicaid expansion. At least 40 states already facilitate access to Medicaid by suspending inmates’ Medicaid coverage rather than terminating it when they are incarcerated, allowing them to get coverage immediately upon release and facilitating access to reimbursement if they receive inpatient care while incarcerated. States also can seek waivers to expand the services and facilities for which federal Medicaid reimbursement is available for incarcerated individuals.

Health Affairs: How Can We Protect The Health of Justice-Involved Populations During the COVID-19 Pandemic? Decarceration and Timely Access to Medicaid Are Essential
Access to Coverage. Medicaid expansion will help ensure that vulnerable individuals released from correctional facilities can readily access health coverage. Most states have expanded Medicaid eligibility to include individuals with annual incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty limit. In Medicaid expansion states, the number of uninsured has declined significantly, and a high proportion of returning citizens have gained access to coverage.

COVID-19 Corrections as Incubators for Coronavirus

The Kansas City Star: ‘No consideration’: Kansas criticizes prison medical provider’s COVID-19 response
The Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) announced on April 17 that it was severing its relationship with the company, Corizon Health. On April 9, eight days before the announcement, Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Jeff Zmuda voiced serious issues with Corizon’s response to the pandemic in a letter to Corizon CEO James Hyman. Specific problems cited by Zmuda were failure to supply personal protective equipment, to hire enough nurses, and sending inmates with fevers back to their cells instead of to quarantine.

The Washington Post: ‘A recipe for disaster’: American prison factories becoming incubators for coronavirus
With inconsistent access to soap and disinfectant and social distancing difficult to maintain, American prisons are becoming incubators for the coronavirus. But even as detention centers suspend visits and confine hundreds of thousands to their cells to try to slow transmission, inmates across the country are also going to work, whether they want to or not. Prisons have begun shifting to become pandemic supply chains, with nearly every state drafting inmates into their response to the virus despite warning from public health experts that these are the last people who should be put on production lines right now.

Chicago Sun Times: Cook County Jail director defends handling of COVID-19 outbreak
Lawyers for Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday defended the handling of a COVID-19 outbreak inside the walls of the Cook County Jail, with one of Dart’s top deputies saying Chicago health department and federal officials toured the jail complex last week and were “very complimentary.” U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said he intends to rule by Monday on whether to issue a temporary restraining order that could require the release of inmates at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. The judge Thursday extended his two-week-old order that required the sheriff to provide additional soap and cleansers for all detainees and staff, and required all inmates known to have been exposed to the virus to wear surgical masks.

New 4 Jax: ‘Formula for disaster’: COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Florida prisons
Florida Department of Corrections officials said Thursday 144 inmates and 110 corrections workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The highly contagious novel coronavirus, which has caused four inmate deaths, has spread quickly within Florida’s prison system, which is the third-largest in the nation with roughly 94,000 inmates, 23,000 workers and 145 facilities. COVID-19 has been detected in 56 prisons and four probation offices across the state as of Thursday, according to the state Department of Corrections.

COVID-19 Deaths in Corrections

Marion Star: 17 Ohio prisoners now dead of coronavirus; 4 at Marion Correctional
Four prisoners from Marion Correctional Institution who had COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, have died, according to the latest numbers from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. A total of 17 Ohio prisoners have died from probable or confirmed COVID-19-related causes as of Thursday, according to the corrections department. Eleven of the other prisoners were at Pickaway Correctional Institution and two were at the Franklin Medical Center.

CTPost: Second CT inmate dies with coronavirus, lawsuit aimed to protect prisoners dismissed
Less than 24 hours after a state judge dismissed a lawsuit demanding the release of prisoners vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if they contracted the virus, the Connecticut Department of Correction announced that an inmate with underlying health conditions had died of complications due to COVID-19. The 57-year-old man was serving a 22-year sentence for first-degree robbery and had been incarcerated since 2002, according to a DOC statement that did not identify the individual. He was to be released in 2022, according to the release.

Noozhawk: 6th Person Dies of Coronavirus in Santa Barbara County; Lompoc Prison Stops Reporting Cases
The Federal Bureau of Prisons for the past two days has stopped reporting the number of COVID-19 deaths at the Lompoc penitentiary. Van Do-Reynoso said she knows of 133 cases at the prison, 32 of whom are employees.

COVID-19 Racial Disparities

Kaiser Health News: The Other COVID Risks: How Race, Income, ZIP Code Influence Who Lives Or Dies
Many public health experts fear that COVID-19 will follow the same trajectory as HIV and AIDS, which began as a disease of big coastal cities ― New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco ― but quickly entrenched in the black community and in the South, which is considered the epicenter of the nation’s HIV/AIDS outbreak today. People in low-income or minority communities are more likely to work in jobs that expose them to the virus ― in factories or grocery stores and public transit, for example. They’re less likely to have paid sick leave and more likely to live in crowded housing. They have high rates of chronic illness.

COVID-19 Different Outcomes in Jails and Prisons

Sun Herald: Differing outcomes in Florida jail, prison hit by outbreak
The Volusia County Branch Jail and the Tomoka Correctional Institution are within two miles from one another, but when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, the jail and the state prison seem worlds apart. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that Tomoka Correctional has the worst outbreak of the coronavirus among Florida's state prisons: 82 inmates and 10 staff members or correctional officers at Tomoka have so far tested positive for the virus.

COVID-19 Testing in Corrections

Time: Ohio Began Mass Testing Incarcerated People for COVID-19. The Results Paint a Bleak Picture for the U.S. Prison System
Mass testing at a state prison in Ohio has provided more evidence of just how quickly and easily the novel coronavirus can spread in correctional facilities. 2,011 people — or 78% of all inmates — have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Marion Correctional Institute in Marion County, Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections. Mass testing at the Cummins Unit correctional facility in Lincoln County, Ark. has similarly found 731 inmates testing positive for COVID-19, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The Marshall Project: These Prisons Are Doing Mass Testing For COVID-19—And Finding Mass Infections
From California to North Carolina, prisons that do aggressive testing are finding that infection is spreading quickly. Take Ohio’s state prison system, which has two of the most serious outbreaks in the country. It has started mass testing of all staff and inmates at its most afflicted facilities. States with the most robust testing identify the most cases, because they’re also finding people who have the virus but are not yet sick or are carriers who won't get sick at all, said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, a faculty member at the Center for Health Equity Research in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Reuters: In four U.S. state prisons, nearly 3,300 inmates test positive for coronavirus -- 96% without symptoms
Reuters surveyed all 50 state prison systems. Of the 30 that responded, most are only testing inmates who show symptoms, suggesting they could be vastly undercounting the number infected by the coronavirus. Florida and Texas, whose inmate populations are bigger than Ohio’s, report a combined total of just 931 cases — far fewer than the 3,837 inmates who tested positive in Ohio. New York, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, has reported 269 positive cases among 51,000 inmates. All three states are testing only symptomatic prisoners.

Chicago Tribune: 92% of Westville inmates tested are positive for COVID-19, group says; Lake County officials report three more coronavirus deaths
Nearly 92% of inmates tested so far at the Westville Correctional Facility in Indiana are positive for COVID-19, according to participants at a hospital planning committee meeting. At the facility, 126 of 137 prisoners tested were positive so far, according to a monthly meeting Wednesday of the District 1 Hospital Emergency Planning Committee, held over Zoom and the phone, which covers Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties.

KSAT: All Bexar County Jail staff, inmates to be tested for COVID-19, health officials say
All sworn and civilian staff at the Bexar County Jail (San Antonio, TX), along with the entire inmate population, will be tested for COVID-19, according to health officials. This decision was announced Saturday and is an effort to help mitigate the spread of the virus at the Bexar County Jail. Officials also announced that units at the main jail and jail annex have been repurposed to support coronavirus patients in case more cases arise in the facility.

The Charlotte Observer: Despite COVID-19 outbreak at Neuse, many NC prisons aren’t testing inmates
In the North Carolina prisons, that’s not unusual. Only for COVID-19, according to state data. And more than a third of the state’s prisons have yet to test a single inmate. One exception to the pattern: Neuse Correctional Institution, in Goldsboro, the site of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks of any prison in the nation.

Talk Business: Arkansas health secretary says more testing needed; prison COVID cases rise to around 600
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith on Monday (April 20) asked doctors to begin testing more patients with COVID-19 symptoms, saying commercial labs have the capacity. Smith, who made his remarks during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily COVID-19 press briefing, said commercial lab tests results are now coming back “much more quickly than they were even a week or two ago.” Prior to Smith’s comments, Gov. Hutchinson said a Tuesday meeting is set with those involved in testing labs to find ways to expand the number of tests and who is tested.