Weekly Update: July14, 2020

COCHS Weekly Update: July 14, 2020


Arnold Ventures: Grant to COCHS
The national response to the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed life-threatening gaps in the healthcare response for people involved in the criminal justice system. Arnold Ventures has made a grant award to COCHS to support its work during the COVID-19 pandemic. COCHS is grateful that Arnold Ventures recognizes that our nation’s 5,000 jails and prisons face a unique threat, and their vulnerability may impact the success of the overall national public health response.

COVID-19 Medicaid in Jails

The Detroit News: Help Michigan by using Medicaid to pay for prisoners’ health
Robert A. Ficano, the former Wayne County sheriff and Wayne County executive, writes: With cities, counties and states facing unprecedented budget deficits, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked unprecedented financial damage to our governments and economic system. Congress, in its partisan divide, is seeking strategies to respond to racial injustice, the health of our citizens and the financial losses brought about by the pandemic. But there is something Congress can do. It can change the Medicaid law so that prisoners are eligible for medical and mental health services. Right now, counties and states must pick up the cost of prisoner medical care.

COVID-19 Investigation

The Marshall Project: How ICE Exported the Coronavirus
Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them. An investigation by The New York Times in collaboration with The Marshall Project reveals how unsafe conditions and scattershot testing helped turn ICE into a domestic and global spreader of the virus — and how pressure from the Trump administration led countries to take in sick deportees.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

Nature: California's San Quentin prison declined free coronavirus tests and urgent advice — now it has a massive outbreak
Since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported at San Quentin in the San Francisco Bay Area of California 5 weeks ago, more than one-third of the inmates and staff — 1,600 people — have tested positive. Six have died. Researchers in the Bay Area say it didn’t have to be this way. For the past four months, they have been offering prison officials free tests for the coronavirus, guidelines for protecting prisons from the pandemic and increasingly frantic warnings that trouble was coming. Law firms filed motions in federal court, requesting that California governor Gavin Newsom compel California’s prisons to heed expert advice.

The Los Angeles Times: Top medical officer for California prisons ousted amid worsening coronavirus outbreak
As COVID-19 infections spread rapidly through California’s prisons, authorities on Monday announced the replacement of the state correction system’s top medical officer, and Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized an earlier decision to transfer hundreds of inmates from a Chino facility that had been battling an outbreak. On Monday, the federal court-appointed receiver overseeing medical care at the state’s prisons announced the removal of Dr. R. Steven Tharratt as the prison system’s statewide medical director. Tharratt, who was appointed to that post by the receiver in 2010, will now serve as a special healthcare advisor to the receiver.

The Sacramento Bee: California prison workers forced to transfer to San Quentin as coronavirus outbreak rages
California’s prison system is forcing Sacramento-area correctional officers and mental health care nurses to transfer to San Quentin State Prison, the site of the system’s largest COVID-19 outbreak. The mental health care nurses are worried for their safety and they fear they could carry the virus back to the institutions where they normally work, including prisons in Folsom and Ione, when they are finished at San Quentin.

The Los Angeles Times: California to release 8,000 prisoners in hopes of easing coronavirus crisis
As many as 8,000 California prisoners could be released ahead of schedule in an unprecedented attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 inside state prisons, with more than half of the releases expected by the end of July. The announcement on Friday by top advisors to Gov. Gavin Newsom offered stark evidence of the dire health conditions at several California prisons.

San Francisco Chronicle: San Quentin’s coronavirus outbreak strains Marin, Bay Area hospitals
San Quentin State Prison’s coronavirus outbreak is straining hospitals in Marin County, which is already dealing with spiking community cases. But the state is making progress to provide more medical care on site, the county’s health officer said. Hospitals in Marin shoulder the burden of caring for the sickest inmates, the county’s health officer. Of 31 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county Monday, 12 came from San Quentin.

Bloomberg: Virus Ravaging Historic Prison Spirals Into Health Crisis
A Covid-19 outbreak tearing through California’s San Quentin State Prison has ignited a broader crisis as gravely ill prisoners are transferred to hospitals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, stretching capacity in a region already struggling with a spike in cases. Across the U.S., correctional facilities in areas including Chicago, Houston, Ohio and New York have become hotbeds for the fast-spreading virus, threatening wider outbreaks and highlighting a group disproportionately affected by it: poor or marginalized citizens, many of them Black and Latino.

San Francisco Chronicle: San Quentin coronavirus outbreak underscores California’s cruel treatment of prisoners
Otis Taylor writes: Mass incarceration has been a booming business since emancipation. During Reconstruction, poor and hungry former slaves were snatched off the street and forced to work as unpaid labor — slaves — in convict leasing programs. The War on Drugs supplied a whole generation of manpower for prison labor. Besides, locking people up hasn’t reduced the factors — poverty, poor education and lack of opportunity — that lead some people to turn to crime. Expanding police departments and putting more people into jails and prisons won’t address underlying issues, such as poverty and systemic racism, plaguing society.

KPIX 5 CBS: San Quentin Inmate Family Members Urge Action By Newsom As Prison COVID-19 Outbreak Grows
Demonstrators gathered at San Quentin State Prison Thursday as the worsening coronavirus outbreak tallied still more infections. More than 1,300 inmates, about 40 percent of the entire population, have tested positive for COVID-19. Seven condemned inmates have died. Inmates’ family members, elected officials, health care providers were among those rallying outside San Quentin, immersed in a coronavirus outbreak so severe it’s putting pressure on Bay Area hospitals.

COVID-19 Transmission Spike

US News and World Report: New Outbreaks Push Inmate Coronavirus Cases Past 50,000
The number of prison inmates testing positive for the coronavirus soared well past the 50,000 mark last month, as recent outbreaks threatened to undo control measures put in place earlier in the pandemic. At the end of June, the total number of coronavirus cases among prisoners had reached at least 52,649, an increase of 8% from the week before, according to data compiled by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focusing on criminal justice, and The Associated Press.

Tampa Bay Times: A look at how COVID-19 kills Florida prisoners
Inmate deaths reported by the medical examiner trend older, with an average age of 61. Florida’s aging prison population, like the state as a whole, is threatened by the highly contagious virus, which has had an outsized impact on older people. There are currently about 23,000 Florida inmates over 50, a segment of the prison population that has increased by 12.5 percent over the past five years as the overall prison population has shrunk. Prison health care, not known for its excellence, can make matters worse.

AL.com: Alabama jail refuses inmates COVID-19 masks because ‘they’re going to eat them'
Outside the walls of the jail in Madison County, Alabama, a coronavirus health order now requires most people to wear face coverings in public. That order doesn’t appear to apply to the jail, which houses inmates arrested by the sheriff’s office, Huntsville and Madison police and other agencies in the county. Jail employees, the sheriff said, are now required to wear masks. A Huntsville police spokesman this week said officers are also now wearing masks. However, in most instances, Madison County inmates still aren’t being given masks or allowed to wear their own.

Lexington Herald Leader: COVID-19 outbreak at Kentucky prison for women worsens. 174 test positive.
A COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread through Kentucky’s prison for women in Shelby County, with 92 inmates infected as of Monday, local health officials report. A total of 159 inmates and 15 employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since May 26 at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Peewee Valley, according to data posted online by the Kentucky Corrections Department. No deaths have been announced.

Scene: The Public Health Threat in Ohio’s Prisons is Not Over
Dr. Meghan Novisky and Dr. Breanna Boppre write: Over the last several weeks my colleague Dr. Breanna Boppre and I have been collecting national data to document what it is like to love someone who is incarcerated during a global pandemic. Over 300 family members with loved ones incarcerated in 40 U.S. states have responded by completing surveys, with 34 participating in in-depth follow up interviews. Of our 300 participants, 14 have family members incarcerated in Ohio. Less than a third of these individuals indicated their loved one was tested for COVID-19. While Ohio implemented mass testing in a few of its prisons to date only 30 percent of the prison population has been tested state-wide. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is currently among states that lack data transparency, failing to disclose specifics about testing procedures.

COVID-19 Racial Disparities

NBC News: Coronavirus inside prisons doesn't just affect inmates. It affects communities of color
Ignoring incarcerated Americans during a public health crisis could greatly increase the number of inmates of color and correctional officers of color who die from COVID-19, according to an American Civil Liberties Union study. Both inmates of color and prison employees of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. As the outbreak spreads, families, organizations and politicians have been calling on the federal and state governments to quickly reduce the prison population by releasing people early and by only jailing people for serious offenses.

The Lancet: COVID-19 pandemic highlights racial health inequities
The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially affected health care on a global scale, and has magnified the inequities in access to health care that existed before. This pandemic has highlighted the equity gap in outcomes for marginalised communities, specifically the Black community, as starkly shown by the disparate morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 in individuals from these communities compared with the majority white population.

Public Policy Institute of California: Proposition 47 and Racial Disparities in California
Widespread protests have highlighted long-standing racial disparities in criminal justice systems across the country. These disparities have narrowed in California, as the state has enacted reforms to reduce its reliance on incarceration, but they are still significant. At a virtual event last week, PPIC researcher Brandon Martin outlined new findings on the impact of one recent reform—Proposition 47, passed by voters in 2014—and a panel of experts discussed a wide range of criminal justice issues.

COVID-19 Release of Incarcerated People

NM Political Report: ACLU again calling on Lujan Grisham to expand prison releases to slow the spread of COVID-19
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is once again calling on state officials, namely the governor and her Department of Corrections secretary, to expand their efforts to lower prison populations in light of COVID-19. The ACLU-NM sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her legal counsel, asking the state to revisit the issue of how to lower inmate populations as a way to increase social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19 within prison walls.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

North Carolina Health New: Judge - NC prisons out of compliance with court orders
North Carolina prisons are out of compliance with a court order. A month ago, Wake County Superior Court Judge Vinston Rozier Jr. ruled that conditions in state prisons were likely unconstitutional in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Rozier wrote that the “state has failed to comply with the Court’s directions in several meaningful ways,” and that the court “is extremely concerned by the apparent indifference with which Defendants have treated the Court’s Orders.”

WREG: Inmates, health experts testify in COVID lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff’s Office
Jail inmates and experts are testifying on conditions at 201 Poplar as a lawsuit against the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the jail over the spread of COVID-19. “People are kept in dormitory style housing, in small bunks where they are not able to socially distance during meals. They are crowded together,” said attorney Steve Mulroy. Attorneys say inmates who are vulnerable to catching the virus and are not a risk should be released while their case makes its way through court.

COVID-19 Studies

UCLA Health: Coronavirus disproportionately harms U.S. prison population
People incarcerated in U.S. prisons tested positive for COVID-19 at a rate 5.5 times higher than the general public, according to a new paper co-authored by the UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project and researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In their report, which was published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers also found that the death rate of U.S. prisoners was 39 per 100,000 people, higher than the U.S. population rate of 29 deaths per 100,000.

COVID-19 Mental Health

Kaiser Family Fund: Mental Health and Substance Use State Fact Sheets
The coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic downturn have taken a toll on mental health for many people, with over 30% of adults in the U.S. now reporting symptoms consistent with an anxiety and/or depressive disorder. KFF polling during the pandemic has consistently found large shares of the public saying that worry and stress related to the coronavirus have had a negative effect on their mental health. This is coming at a time when mental health resources were already strained, and people with mental health diagnoses often face barriers to care.