Weekly Update: June 1, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: June 1, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The Hill: Bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduces bill to give inmates Medicaid access
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would provide inmates with access to Medicaid. A press release from Rep. Annie Kuster’s (D-N.H.) office stated that passing the Humane Correctional Health Care Act would repeal Medicaid Inmate Exclusion, which keeps incarcerated Medicaid enrollees from accessing benefits and shifts the “cost burden to states and counties.”

The Hill: Jails shrunk during the pandemic — here's how to keep them small
The current reentry environment is bleak. An important first step is for the federal government to dismantle senseless impediments that limit formerly incarcerated people from access to services they need to thrive on the outside. A prime example is Medicaid, which 38 states and the District of Columbia now offer to most poor adults under the Affordable Care Act. While expanded Medicaid should cover people leaving jails, restoring people’s coverage during reentry has proven challenging.

University of Massachusetts Amherst: New Study Finds Infants of Fathers Incarcerated During Gestation Were Associated with 58% to Over 200% Higher Odds of Adverse Outcomes Than Unexposed Births
A new study of all live births and jail incarcerations in New York City from 2010-2016 has found that births exposed to paternal jail incarceration during gestation were associated with 58% to over 200% higher odds of adverse outcomes than unexposed births, including increased odds of late preterm birth, low birthweight, small for gestational age (SGA), and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) admission.

12 News: 'Babies deserve so much more': New bill would grant pregnant Arizona prisoners better care while in custody
For years, the ACLU has been pushing for Senate Bill 1526, also known as the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which increases protections for pregnant women while in prison. According to the bill's language, it requires Arizona Department of corrections to provide: pregnant prisoners with food and dietary supplements that meet prenatal nutritional guidelines; female inmates with feminine hygiene products upon request without being charged for them; training on topics relating to the mental and physical health of pregnant prisoners for corrections staff. It prohibits using restraints on a pregnant prisoner or within 30 days following a child’s birth.

East Bay Times: Marin judge probes San Quentin’s COVID-19 debacle
Wednesday was the fifth day of the hearing, which is being overseen by Marin Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Howard. On Friday, the court heard testimony from Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer. Willis told the court that unlike other providers of medical care in Marin County, San Quentin failed to develop a plan for how it would respond to a COVID-19 outbreak. Willis testified that when he learned of the transfer of the Chino inmates on June 1, he recommended that they be kept separate from other prisoners at San Quentin.

The Sacramento Bee: I survived a COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin. Gov. Newsom must see me as a human being
It began with mild headaches, but within two days I was bedridden. After days of being curled in a fetal position, I began to ask nurses for medicine as they passed through the building. "Time after time they responded, “I only do temperature checks, put in a sick call form.” Or the worst reply, “I’ll be right back.” It took two days before I finally received medical attention. After days of pleading, someone had finally seen me as a human being behind these cell bars.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

Washington Post: Number of ICE detainees testing positive for the coronavirus rises as advocates say agency needs robust vaccination program
Hundreds of immigrants in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers tested positive for the coronavirus this week, compared with just 60 inside the much-larger Bureau of Prisons, a stark discrepancy that comes as lawyers and lawmakers urge the Biden administration to swiftly vaccinate all detainees. Infections in ICE detention rose from 370 in mid-March to nearly 1,500 this week.

West Hawaii Today: Jail outbreak worsens: 61 more HCCC inmates test positive for COVID-19
More than five dozen Hawaii Community Correctional Center inmates received positive COVID-19 test results, bringing the total number of cases associated with the Hilo jail to 72. Hawaii Community Correctional Center said it received 119 inmate test results Saturday as part of mass testing at the facility. More than half — 61 — were positive, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases associated with the current outbreak to 72. The department said that one of the inmates who had tested positive was released after serving their full.

COVID-19 Vaccines

Grand Forks Herald: Two North Dakota jails refuse to offer COVID-19 shots to inmates
The sheriffs of Burleigh and Williams counties said their jails aren't offering vaccinations to those behind bars despite proposals from local public health agencies to provide shots. Meanwhile, jails in Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot and Dickinson have been offering and promoting the shot for months.

KPVI: Half of state inmates are refusing a COVID-19 vaccine, Department of Corrections says
Just like in the general population, plenty of people in custody in Montana are choosing not to get vaccinated for COVID-19. That’s the case even though jails and prisons hold people in communal living situations, making it easier for the virus to spread, and in general see more chronic health conditions. Jail and prison inmates have higher rates of hypertension, asthma, cervical cancer and hepatitis than the general population. The Montana Department of Corrections is seeing a roughly 50% vaccination refusal rate.

WLFI: 90 out of 400 inmates at Tippecanoe Co Jail choosing to get vaccinated so far
The Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office (IN) has had the COVID vaccine available to inmates for the past week now. However, as of Tuesday, only 90 out of about 400 inmates currently in the jail have agreed to get the shot. That's about 22% of the jail's total population. The county jail's health provider started vaccinating the consenting inmates on Monday of last week. Sheriff Goldsmith said it made the most sense to use the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine since he doesn't know how long each person will be with them. Goldsmith said they put up signs and brochures in the jail so that inmates could get educated and ask questions before making their decision.

COVID-19 Technology in Corrections

AP: Judge: COVID was reason for jail to go from books to tablets
Officials at a Louisiana jail reacted reasonably to the COVID-19 pandemic by taking away printed books and giving inmates tablets on which they could read books instead, a federal judge has ruled. Magistrate Judge Janis van Meerveld dismissed Terrebonne Parish jail inmate James Robert Pitre’s lawsuit claiming that his constitutional rights were violated when his Bible and other books were taken. The judge wrote that letting inmates get and share books before the tablets arrived “would have defeated the policy’s legitimate purpose to limit the possibility of COVID-19 spreading within the jail – to the detriment of both the staff and the inmates.”

Racial Disparities

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Other Voices: Opi­oid addiction is a disease, not a crime
In an op-ed, Adrienne Abner, an attorney with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, writes: Like diabetes or heart disease, opioid use disorder is a serious medical condition where the disease has damaged or changed how certain organs function. The failures of jails to provide adequate medical care for opioid use disorder often leads to needless suffering and disastrous consequences, including death. In this crisis, Black and Latino communities are struck even harder. Systemic racism has led to mass incarceration, especially for Black and Latino people, who also face systemic inequities in health care access.

Los Angeles Times: Judge rails at L.A. officials for causing homelessness through structural racism. They don’t disagree
At a hearing Thursday devoted to structural racism in a federal lawsuit about homelessness in Los Angeles, the defendants offered no evidence to suggest it doesn’t exist. Neither did the plaintiffs. Judge David O. Carter said a long, winding road of racism led him to the belief that he had to act and order the city and county of Los Angeles to offer shelter to everyone on skid row by October.

Safety in Correctional Facilities

New York Times: Guards Smuggled Drugs and Razors Into N.Y.C. Jails, Prosecutors Say
Scalpels, razor blades, cellphones and synthetic marijuana are all banned behind bars in New York City’s jails. But seven correction officers and two other correction employees were smuggling these and other contraband inside, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said on Wednesday, giving them to prisoners in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes.

Los Angeles Times: A self-styled satanist beheaded his cellmate, but the guards didn’t notice, report says
The convicted killers shared the same cell at Corcoran State Prison. But on the morning of March 9, 2019, only one was still alive. Jaime Osuna, 31, had decapitated and dissected the body of his cellmate, Luis Romero, 44, with a makeshift knife, state documents show. Reports add fresh revelations and raise more questions about one of the most heinous slayings inside the California prison system. The killing has prompted investigations and a lawsuit over why Romero was in a cell with Osuna, a self-styled satanist with a history of attacking his cellmates.

ABC News: 11 Texas sheriff workers fired, 6 suspended in inmate death
Eleven employees with a Texas sheriff’s office have been fired and six others suspended following the February death of an inmate who was hit multiple times in the head by detention officers, authorities announced Friday. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he was “very upset and heartbroken” about what a three-month investigation into the death of 23-year-old Jaquaree Simmons found. Medical examiners had ruled Simmons’ death a homicide from injuries to his head.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health

The Atlantic: The Truth About Deinstitutionalization
When a person has a mental-health crisis in America, it is almost always law enforcement—not a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist—who responds to the 911 call. But most officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with mental-health emergencies. And while laws intended to protect civil liberties make it exceedingly difficult to hospitalize people against their will, it is remarkably easy to arrest them. As a result, policing and incarceration have effectively replaced emergency mental-health care, especially in low-income communities of color.

AP: South Carolina county OKs $10 million jail death settlement
A South Carolina county has agreed to pay $10 million to the family of a man with mental health issues whom deputies forced to the ground on his stomach and repeatedly shot with stun guns and pepper spray before he died in jail this January. Jamal Sutherland was originally booked on charges of third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor. His parents had placed him at Palmetto Behavioral Health, a mental health and substance abuse center, for treatment of his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

AL.com: Judge seeks long-range remedy on mental health care in Alabama prisons
Four years after finding that mental health care in Alabama prisons was “horrendously inadequate,” U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is holding hearings to develop a long-range plan to maintain care that meets constitutional standards. It’s the next step in a lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, and others over medical care, mental health care, and accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

PEW Trust: Dallas Works to Avoid Sending People in Crisis to Emergency Rooms or Jails
Most cities and towns continue to rely on law enforcement as the first response to people in crisis. The default to police, jails, and emergency rooms has proved costly and typically prevents people from accessing evidence-based treatments to address their mental health needs safely. Even before this year’s calls to rethink approaches to law enforcement and associated funding, a pilot program in Dallas—the Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team, or RIGHT Care—has focused on addressing health needs first. The program model redirects many from the justice system to community-based services.

KABC: How inmates are helping others struggling with mental illness behind bars at downtown LA jail
Roughly 2,800 inmates are behind bars at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles, all of them men struggling with mental illness. But, some good things are happening at Twin Towers. Specifically on the fourth floor, where the inmates who need the most medical attention are seeing real progress. Some four years ago, inmate Craigen Armstrong was among the general population at Men's Central Jail. After completing a series of education classes, he's now a Merit Master at Twin Towers - essentially a mental health assistant and group leader for a pod of inmates.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Tarrant County’s largest mental health center? The jail. Why that’s about to change
The Tarrant County Jail has an issue. It is the county’s largest provider of mental health care. On May 11, county officials announced they want to open a mental health jail diversion center. Its goal will be to keep low-level offenders out of jail and help them get back on their feet. County Judge Glen Whitley said he’d like the center to open by Oct. 1 but understands it could be unrealistic and he would be happy if it opens by the end of the year.

Correctional Healthcare Vendors and Private Prisons

KJZZ: Compliance Scores Plummet After Federal Judge Disallows 'Drive By' Mental Health Encounters In Arizona Prisons
After the state was forced to reevaluate how its prison health care contractor conducts mental health encounters, newly submitted reports show plummeting rates of compliance with court-ordered benchmarks. The Arizona Department of Corrections is required to monitor and record mental health encounters with incarcerated patients. The department contracts with Centurion of Arizona to provide health care services in the 10 state-run prisons. After three people incarcerated in Arizona state prisons died by suicide in the span of four weeks in 2020, a medical expert who reviewed the deceased inmates’ medical records determined a lack of proper mental health care directly contributed to their deaths.

KOB 4: Lawsuit: Inmate's in-custody death could have been prevented
A newly-filed lawsuit claims an inmate died at the Doña Ana County jail because the facility and its healthcare vendor Corizon was too cheap to pay for an ambulance. Hector Garcia was being held for unpaid fines on Aug. 4, 2019. Video from the jail shows him slump over a fall to the ground. Hector Garcia was being held for unpaid fines on Aug. 4, 2019. Video from the jail shows him slump over a fall to the ground.

The Intelligencer: US court revives lawsuit against private prison in Nevada
A federal appeals court said Friday the nation’s largest private prison corporation can be held liable for negligence by a man who spent almost a year in solitary confinement at a southern Nevada facility without ever seeing a judge on marijuana-related charges. The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a jury can hear Rudy Rivera’s lawsuit claiming that CoreCivic Inc. employees failed to tell the U.S. Marshals Service while Rivera languished in custody from November 2015 to October 2016 at the Nevada Southern Detention Center