Weekly Update: July 27, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: July 27, 2021

Highlighted Stories

COCHS: American Rescue Plan Funds COVID-19 Testing and Decarceration in Jails/Prisons
Yesterday Dan Mistak, COCHS' Acting President and Director of Health Care Initiatives for Justice-Involved Individuals, sent out a letter notifying colleagues that the Centers for Disease Control and Office of Justice Programs announced last week that it would be investing $700 million to public health agencies across the country to invest in jail, prison and juvenile justice facilities to plan and implement COVID-19 testing and mitigation, including reducing facility population through diversion and release programs.

CT Mirror: Here’s how Connecticut can move beyond the harm of the War on Drugs
In the 1990s, then-Senator Joe Biden and others pushed a War on Drugs, a war that had a tremendous negative impact on our state. Prison populations soared; over a third of young men of color were under criminal justice supervision; and drug use and attendant public health consequences proceeded unabated. State and local budgets were skewed toward punishment rather than public health treatment of drug dependence and related diseases such as AIDs, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. Now, the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan recognizes that a public health approach is critical to addressing substance dependence. Billions of new federal dollars have been committed to that effort. Connecticut needs to take robust advantage of those federal dollars.

AMA: Letter to Senators Mike Braun and Tammy Duckworth Supporting Medicaid Reentry Act
James Madura CEO and Executive Vice President of the AMA writes: On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing to express support for S. 285, the “Medicaid Reentry Act.” It is widely acknowledged that the incarcerated population has a higher rate of chronic diseases, mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and infectious diseases than the general population. By allowing Medicaid assistance for eligible incarcerated individuals up to 30 days prior to their release would help establish coverage, assist with transition to care in the community, help reduce recidivism, and help save lives.

New York Times: Biden Legal Team Decides Inmates Must Return to Prison After Covid Emergency
The Biden administration legal team has decided that thousands of federal convicts who were released to home confinement to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 will be required by law to return to prison a month after the official state of emergency for the pandemic ends, according to officials. The administration has come under pressure from criminal justice reform activists and some lawmakers to revoke a Trump-era memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which said inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison.

Office of Senator Dick Durbin: Durbin, Booker: We Should Not Force Individuals On Home Confinement To Return To Prison
U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, today responded to reports that the Biden Administration has decided that thousands of nonviolent inmates who were released on home confinement to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will be required to return to prison one month after the official state of emergency for the pandemic ends. “Individuals on CARES Act home confinement have posed no threat, and are already reintegrating into society, reconnecting with their families, and contributing to our economy,” said Durbin.

Washington Post: The First Step Act released them from prison. Then the government tried to lock them back up.
In December 2019, a group of former federal inmates gathered on Capitol Hill to meet congressional leaders and White House officials. The men had been released early from prison under the First Step Act, a sweeping bipartisan bill that allowed federal prisoners with qualifying drug offenses to apply for release. More than 3,000 federal inmates have been released from prison under the First Step Act since it was signed by President Donald Trump in 2018. But prosecutors have sought to re-incarcerate a handful of offenders, arguing they did not actually qualify for release.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

The Hill: Four steps to increase COVID-19 vaccinations among correctional officers
In an op-ed, Homer Venters writes: As the United States faces a deadly new wave of COVID-19 infections, we must address the low rates of vaccination among the nation’s half-million correctional officers. Most correctional staff have been offered the vaccine, but the low acceptance rates create a common scenario in which more incarcerated people than correctional staff have been vaccinated. We can take four steps today to increase COVID-19 vaccination among correctional officers and reduce mortality and morbidity from the Delta variant: survey correctional staff to learn about their concerns; provide additional incentives and compensation for vaccination; leverage credible messengers; expand the roles of state departments of health and the CDC behind bars.

COVID-19 Incarceration and The Pandemic

PPIC: The Past, Present, and Future of COVID-19 in California Prisons
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted California’s prison system. California reduced the prison population more than any other state and implemented a robust testing system that registered more than 276,000 tests per month at its peak. In recent months, vaccines have emerged as the primary defense against further virus proliferation. In prisons, where COVID-19 spreads easily. Prisoners seem to acknowledge the threat the coronavirus poses and have largely chosen to get vaccinated. Across prisons, prisoner vaccination rates currently range from 51% to 88%, with an average of 71%—10 percentage points higher than the statewide rate. Direct experience of the harm the virus can cause may have motivated many prisoners to get their shots.

WTOP News: DC inmates report limited access to coronavirus tests, medical care during pandemic
D.C. inmates in federal prisons said that a majority of them had limited access to coronavirus tests and medical care during the pandemic and reported inconsistencies in mask-wearing among prison staff, according to a report by an independent oversight body. As for treatment for COVID-19, one respondent shared being hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms and testing positive, and later being returned to his cell while still having active symptoms. The report said that his cellmates also later tested positive. Three people reported that when they tested positive, they were sent to a disciplinary unit to be quarantined.

Racial Disparities and Public Safety

Tampa Bay Times: Pasco Sheriff’s Office letter targets residents for ‘increased accountability’
Last year, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the Sheriff’s Office creates lists of people it considers likely to break the law based on criminal histories, social networks and other unspecified intelligence. The agency sends deputies to their homes repeatedly, often without a search warrant or probable cause for an arrest. But critics of the agency’s intelligence efforts, including an alliance of local, state and national organizations known as People Against the Surveillance of Children and Overpolicing, or the PASCO Coalition, said the latest communication raises even more concerns. “We know that is not what makes people or communities more safe, this heightened level of surveillance,” said Lauren Johnson, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “The letter is basically threatening and promising a certain level of harassment and oversight that is in line with the stories we are hearing from the community,” said Raniah Elgendi, of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Florida.

Chicago Sun Times: Black and Brown Americans biggest losers in 50-year war on drugs
Fifty years ago this summer, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs. Today, with the U.S. mired in a deadly opioid epidemic that did not abate during the coronavirus pandemic’s worst days, it is questionable whether anyone won the war. Yet the loser is clear: Black and Latino Americans, their families and their communities. A key weapon was the imposition of mandatory minimums in prison sentencing. Decades later those harsh federal and state penalties led to an increase in the prison industrial complex that saw millions of people, primarily of color, locked up and shut out of the American dream.

ABC News: State report highlights racial disparities and flaws in SC prison system, calls for change
A report recently released by state officials is highlighting some of the key flaws within South Carolina's criminal justice system. Black South Carolinians represent 26% of South Carolina’s population, they represent approximately 61% of the state prison population today. ACLU of SC officials also said as of 2017 the imprisonment rate of Black adults in South Carolina was more than five times the rate of whites.

AP: ‘Serious racial disparities’ in Pennsylvania juvenile court
Pennsylvania locks up far too many first-time and low-level youth offenders, with Black youth in particular disproportionately yanked from their homes and prosecuted as adults, according to a governmental task force that made recommendations on Tuesday to reform juvenile justice in the state. “Serious racial disparities pervade Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system,” the bipartisan Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force said in its report.


Urban Institute: Housing First Breaks the Homelessness-Jail Cycle
Homelessness is growing in communities across the United States as housing becomes increasingly unaffordable and public systems fail to support people who need assistance, forcing thousands to sleep outside or in shelters. Many people experiencing chronic, or long-term, homelessness are trapped in a homelessness-jail cycle—rotating in and out of jail, detoxification centers, and emergency health care. Rather than paying for the consequences of leaving people in homelessness, communities could invest in housing and services that end this harmful pattern. Results from the five-year Denver Supportive Housing Social Impact Bond Initiative (Denver SIB) show how both people and public budgets benefit when communities take this proactive approach.

Transgender Health in Corrections

Wired: Prisoners, Doctors, and the Battle Over Trans Medical Care
More than 20 percent of trans women (and nearly 50 percent of Black trans people) have been incarcerated at some point in their lives, driven into the criminal justice system by over-policing and poverty as well as structural and individual discrimination. Once they end up behind bars, almost all are incarcerated according to the sex they were assigned at birth. That means being locked up in men’s facilities, where many experience long stints in solitary confinement and near-routine physical and sexual violence at the hands of both prisoners and guards.

Debt Collection

The Hill: What does driving have to do with debt collection?
For some people, a traffic ticket is just a nuisance: pay the ticket and move on. But for many Americans, the inability to pay a ticket or fine, often for a minor infraction, can kick off a harmful chain of events. Starting with having their driver’s license suspended, drivers are then faced with a tough choice to stop driving — and lose access to work and necessities — or keep driving with a suspended license and risk more costly fees, arrest, and even jail time. That’s why lawmakers across the country are taking bipartisan action to stop the counterproductive practice of suspending driver’s licenses because of unpaid debts. In the last five years, 21 states have passed major reforms to curb debt-based driver’s license suspensions.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Bakersfield.com: KCSO sees improvements with new mental health program for inmates
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office's creation of a full-time staff position charged with responding quickly to mental health needs of inmates has reduced suicide attempts within Lerdo Jail, according to the KCSO. The position is part of the Inmate Stabilization and Assessment Team. The successful and positive reception from the inmates has motivated the county to ultimately add two more personnel to the program. Central Receiving Facility, the other jail where inmates are housed on a short-term basis, also receives help.

Post and Courier: Charleston County sheriff implements 8 policies to change mental health response at jail
After almost seven months in office, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano has implemented eight policies at the county jail to change the way employees respond to inmates who have mental health challenges. The changes follow the death of Jamal Sutherland at the Al Cannon Detention Center. Sutherland, a 31-year-old mentally ill man, who refused to leave a cell for a bond hearing. Citizens in a mental crisis after an arrest will be evaluated by a crisis unit before being booked into jail. The jail also has a tracking system that will alert medical staff that a resident needs a mental evaluation.

KGET.com: New inmate mental health program at Lerdo Jail helps significant reduce suicide attempts
A new inmate mental health program created by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office in October 2020 is already seeing success in reducing suicide attempts. The department said the goal of the Inmate Stabilization and Assessment Team is to increase medical and mental health oversight at the Lerdo Jail and provide better access to mental health services for inmates. KCSO said 89 inmates are participating in the program. Prior to the implementation of the ISAT, the department said there were 49 suicide attempts between January and October, of which four were successful.

U.S. Department of Justice and Correctional Facilities

United States Attorney's Office Southern District of Georgia: Former prison guard admits role in major south Georgia drug trafficking conspiracy
Jessica Azaelae Burnett, a/k/a “The Madam,” 41, of Douglas, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Methamphetamine and Marijuana. Burnett, who was a sergeant and a senior guard with CoreCivic, the private prison company that operates Coffee County Correctional Facility, admitted working with other conspirators in distribution of methamphetamine and marijuana. Her role in the conspiracy included smuggling cell phones, drugs and other contraband into the state prison.

Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama prison deaths continue to rise in July
The Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed another two deaths inside its state prisons this week. The U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing a lawsuit against the state and ADOC over widespread violence, mismanagement and staff abuses in its men's prisons around the state. ADOC will soon be required to provide quarterly reports to the Legislature on inmate deaths, sexual violence and contraband issue. The new reporting requirements go into effect on Aug. 1. The system currently releases monthly reports with total numbers of homicides, suicides and "other" deaths, which often include drug overdoses, prisoners and prisoner advocates say.

Prison Expansion

CommonWealth: Activists seek moratorium on prison construction
Massachusetts has the lowest incarceration rate in the country and its inmate population continues to decline steadily, yet the state is still investing heavily in prisons and jails. A bill sponsored by Senator Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, is asking legislators to question that. The bill being pushed by Comerford, would implement a five-year moratorium on investments in incarceration. That includes studying, designing, expanding, or building new jails and prisons within the state.

Staffing Shortage in Corrections

VT Digger: Commissioner says corrections staffing shortage at ‘dangerous point’
The head of the corrections department said the current staffing shortage is at a “dangerous point” and said he had considered sending some incarcerated individuals in Vermont to an out-of-state prison in Mississippi. James Baker, interim corrections commissioner, testified late last week before the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee on steps the department is taking to address the problem, from stepping up recruitment to working for better retention of current employees.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Virginia Mercury: Virginia Department of Corrections announces plans to de-privatize prison health care
After struggling for decades with rising health care costs and complaints about shoddy medical care, the Virginia Department of Corrections plans to end its contract with the private medical provider that serves about half of the state’s prisons. The state hired Miami-based Armor Correctional Health to provide health care services in 2014 after a prior contractor backed out of its agreement with the state when it realized it had severely underestimated the cost of providing services. Clarke said the state’s relationship with the company would continue for at least one more year while the department begins the transition.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Lawsuit alleges Miller County inmate who died was denied Rxs
A federal lawsuit filed earlier this month centers on the July 2018 death of a man in the Miller County jail. The complaint alleges that Anthony Bradley's death resulted from an unconstitutional lack of medical care. Bradley, 47, was arrested the night of July 5, 2018, and booked into the jail . He complained of stomach and lower back pain at that time, and informed the jail staff that he suffered from high blood pressure and acid reflux, according to the complaint. Bradley never received his medications. SHP [Southern Health Partners] staff would subsequently describe the failure to deliver Bradley his medications as due to 'a breakdown in communication. Bradley died from acute peritonitis due to a ruptured duodenal ulcer.