Weekly Update: October 5, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: October 05, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The Lancet: Fatal police violence by race and state in the USA, 1980–2019: a network meta-regression
Deaths involving police have been greatly undercounted in the United States, and African American people die in such encounters at 3.5 times the rate of whites, according to a new analysis by public health researchers. That realization isn’t entirely new. After the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., news organizations started to keep their own tallies of police-related deaths, which turned out to be higher than the government’s numbers. The researchers based their inferences on numbers from three open-source databases: Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence and The Guardian‘s The Counted, which they compared with the data from the death certificates.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Impact of a Prison Therapeutic Diversion Unit on Mental and Behavioral Health Outcomes
This study evaluates therapeutic diversion units (TDUs), which are treatment-oriented prison housing for offenders with a mental illness. TDUs are staffed with behavioral health, nursing and custody professionals. They provide an alternative to restrictive housing. Previous studies have found that mentally ill offenders are 30-60 percent more likely to be assigned to restrictive housing. Charles Mautz, a co-author of the new study, said the data indicates TDUs are a viable, safe alternative for offenders with a mental illness.

National Institute of Justice: Role of Human Services During Community Supervision
This paper summarizes what is known about the human service needs of people on supervision, and catalogs the ways in which various forms of community supervision can operate to either facilitate or impede the meaningful delivery of programs, treatment, and other services to people on probation, parole, and pretrial release. All three forms of community supervision require people to comply with specific release conditions or face the threat of incarceration, whether in jail or prison.

Matt Korostoff: Incarceration in Real Numbers
Incarceration in Real Numbers is an interactive website. It is an extraordinarily long webpage that shows individual images (in symbol form) of all 2.3 million incarcerated Americans, including a count in the upper right hand corner of how many incarcerated people you have scrolled through. To read explanatory notes and charts included on this webiste, keep scrolling down.

COVID-19 Surge in Corrections

The Gazette: El Paso County jail fighting new COVID-19 cases as staff face challenges
Nearly a year after the El Paso County jail became the site of a record coronavirus outbreak last fall, Sheriff’s officials say they are doing all they can to mitigate the spread of the infection within the facility’s walls. Last Monday, the most recent day data was available, El Paso County Sheriff’s reported four cases among staff and nine among inmates, down from the summer peak on Sept. 6, when 60 inmates and six deputies tested positive. The recent increase in cases at the jail mirrors heightened disease spread in the community.

The Spokesman Review: Clallam Bay prison outbreak grows to over 160 cases
A COVID-19 outbreak at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center continues to grow, according to health officials. The outbreak at the prison on the Olympic Peninsula northwest of Seattle began in early August with five staff members, The Peninsula Daily News reported. The state Department of Corrections dashboard shows it had grown to 55 staff members and 107 inmates as of late September. The dashboard also shows the people lodged at the facility as of last Saturday had a higher rate of full vaccination at over 50% than the staff at nearly 41%.

Oil City News: 39 new COVID cases reported in Wyoming prisons this week
The Wyoming Department of Correction on Friday reported 39 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and correctional staff in the last week. The new cases include 14 among correctional staff and 25 among Wyoming inmates. The WDOC says 3 inmate deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

Daily Press: Inmate, 77, died of COVID-19 at Newport News City Jail; was awaiting mental health hearing
A 77-year-old inmate whose body was found at the Newport News City Jail in late August died of COVID-19, the state medical examiner’s office has determined. A sheriff’s deputy making the rounds at the jail on Aug. 28 found Robert Chester Forrest Jr. unresponsive. He was in custody for months awaiting a hearing on whether he should be committed for mental health treatment. That stemmed from a decades-old rape conviction for which Forrest served about 15 years in prison.

COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates

The Buffalo News: Hochul to expand vaccine mandate to health workers in prisons, mental health facilities
Gov. Kathy Hochul (NY) said her vaccination mandate would be expanded to include thousands of nurses and other health workers at state mental health and prison facilities. Unlike hospital and nursing home workers, employees in those facilities have been able to bypass the vaccination requirement with a weekly test. “There’s no reason for that exception,’’ said Hochul.

Los Angeles Times: All California prison guards, staff must get COVID-19 vaccine, federal judge rules
A federal judge on Monday ordered that all correctional officers and staff entering California’s prisons be vaccinated. The judge sided with a federal court-appointed receiver overseeing the medical care there and rejected efforts to block it by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the prison guards union. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar’s order covers all 34 of California’s prisons and does allow for religious and medical exemptions to be sought by the employees.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

The Quad-City Times: Cook County sheriff accuses state prison of slowing inmate transfers based on vaccinations
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said more than 500 detainees are awaiting transfer to state prison creating a powder keg in his jail and forcing him to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to intercede. The Illinois Department of Corrections stopped the transfer of detainees in March 2020 because of the pandemic and after resuming five months later, the process has since slowed to crawl. Costs to cover extra food and provisions for the detainees and overtime for jail guards has reached $62 million.

WLKY: Metro Corrections teaming up with health department to boost vaccinations among inmates
Amid ongoing issues at the Louisville's (KY) jail that have come to light, the COVID-19 pandemic is being blamed by leadership as the cause of challenges behind the scenes. Director Dwayne Clark said Metro Corrections has been hit hard by the pandemic and said that it's caused some of the staffing issues and supply shortages. To combat the virus, the jail has partnered with the health department to help vaccinate inmates. Health officials said the shot is voluntary, but many inmates are signing up.

COVID-19 Testing In Corrections

CommonWealth: SJC sides with sheriffs in COVID testing case
When the Supreme Judicial Court (MA) justices heard a case about whether sheriffs needed to do more COVID testing in jails, they sounded skeptical, questioning why more screening was necessary when vaccines were readily available. This week, the SJC confirmed that view, deciding unanimously that the county jails do not need to implement regular testing of asymptomatic prisoners. The Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers had sued the state’s 13 sheriffs, seeking to require the jails to conduct weekly COVID surveillance testing of all inmates.

North Carolina Health News: Questions about COVID testing in NC prisons cause confusion, fear for inmates
As the most recent COVID-19 outbreak spread throughout the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women late this summer, the most pervasive feeling among those incarcerated was fear. Though about 80 percent of the women incarcerated at NCCIW are vaccinated against COVID, there is still a lot of confusion over who gets tested for the virus and why. When the prison was reporting more than 40 active cases of COVID infection in early September, several incarcerated women said it seemed like no one was being tested.

Compassionate Release

The Baltimore Sun: Doctor: Dying prisoners deserve dignity and palliative care, if not compassionate release
There is an urgent need to ensure access to quality palliative medicine, if not compassionate release, for incarcerated prisoners with advanced illness, a disproportionate percentage of whom are economically disadvantaged and from communities of color. Our system continues vacillating between compassion for alleviating human suffering and punishment.


CNN: Biden administration grapples with American addiction as overdose deaths hit a record high
In the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package is included a provision to provide incarcerated individuals with Medicaid in the lead-up to their release from prison, a major step that advocates argue will help an extremely vulnerable population gain access to mental health and substance use treatment, possibly preventing recidivism.

Spectrum News 1: Kentucky will receive $15 million to implement, expand mobile crisis intervention units
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced an award of $15 million to Medicaid agencies in 20 states, including Kentucky, for planning grants that will support expanding community-based mobile crisis intervention services for Medicaid recipients. The funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and will help deliver these services 24-hours a day, helping individuals on Medicaid that experience a substance use-related or mental health crisis. Mobile crisis teams are comprised of qualified professionals trained to de-escalate and treat individuals in the least restrictive setting and divert individuals with mental illness from jail and emergency departments.

Rikers Island

New York Times: Does Building Better Jails Go Far Enough?
One way prisons can be particularly dangerous is poor design, including a lack of natural light and ventilation, the last of which is crucial during a pandemic. Design and infrastructural issues are especially significant now given the city’s plan to shutter Rikers by 2027, and to build a jail in each borough except Staten Island, a project the City Council approved in 2019. But the question of how to remake the city’s jails has sharply divided city officials, who are intent on maintaining lockups, advocates for prison rights and even architects.


Daily Bulletin: Alabama will use federal COVID relief funds to build prison
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law Friday a number of prison infrastructure bills that will use coronavirus relief funds to build new prisons in the state, calling it a “pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state’s criminal justice system.” Pastor Robert White, who runs the Legal Advocacy Group, which lobbies for inmates’ rights, previously told CNN that “we could be using this money on mental health, on our sewage system. Covid is still going on; we should be using this money on our health care system.”

Criminal Justice Reform

The Crime Report: California Writes Off $534M in Justice Debt for Low-Income Residents
California plans to write off an estimated $534 million in fines and fees that have accrued to justice-involved individuals in the state. A landmark bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week will eliminate 17 fees charged to individuals involved in the state’s criminal justice system, lifting an estimated $534 million in debt―ranging from overdue court fees to unpaid traffic fines.

Reuters: U.S. House passes bill to end disparities in crack cocaine sentences
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill to permanently end the sentencing disparities between crack cocaine and powder, a policy that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. In a bipartisan vote of 361-66, the House approved the EQUAL Act, short for Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law.

Criminal Justice and Fine Collection

MorningStar: When fines and fees ruin lives
On a recent blustery September morning, Melissa Taylor stood in front of a gathered crowd in New York City. "New York State has been waging an economic war against poor people for decades," she said. What Taylor calls "economic war against poor people" is well-documented. A Justice Department investigation into the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, called Brown's death "driven by overriding pressure from the city to use law enforcement not as a public service, but as a tool for raising revenue."

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health

Tulsa World: Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health
Today, our mental health care system is fragmented, underfunded and difficult to navigate. Mental illness often results in a vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness and incarceration. Oklahoma ranks 41st in mental illness and substance use disorders and 39th in access to care, according to the 2020 Mental Health America report. Law enforcement can no longer shoulder the responsibility of treatment and response to the mental health crisis in Oklahoma. We must see relief in the form of long-term treatment facilities, proper funding of mental health treatment and a substantial increase in public mental health beds.

WBEZ Chicago: Mental Illness In Solitary Landed These Men An Extra 842 Years In Illinois Prisons, Advocates Say
Prison environment, especially solitary, exacerbates people’s mental illnesses, and then the prison system punishes them for it. The punishments can be severe. The prison project said its clients have had an average of 15 additional years added to the time they expect to serve in prison — collectively, an additional 842 years.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

VC Star: County expands inmate health services following increased deaths
Ventura County supervisors have authorized $2.5 million to hire more nurses, therapists and other health care staff at county jails in the face of the growing numbers of inmates with mental illness and an increased number of inmate deaths. The sheriff said he proposed the upgrade following an internal review that took into account operating conditions at other jails, particularly those under federal oversight or courtconsent decrees. One high-profile case emerged in late August at the San Luis Obispo County Jail. The U.S. Department of Justice said it found evidence the jail had failed to provide constitutionally adequate mental health and medical care of inmates.

13 Action News: $3.6 million grant focuses on mental health for inmates and elementary students
Unison Health received a $3.6 million dollar grant to fund mental health support services for Lucas County Jail inmates and TPS elementary students. The majority of the money will be used to fund mental health medications for jail inmates and provide counseling and transitional services. Once a person is incarcerated, their Medicaid funding stops and that means sometimes expensive mental health medications do as well. The jail cannot fund these medications, so the grant will.