Previous What's New Postings

Some States Are Cloaking Prison COVID Data
Florida and Georgia as well as Texas, provide even less information than they once did, according to researchers. The Behind Bars Data Project noted that while prison reporting had been “plagued by deep inadequacies” since the start of the pandemic, corrections systems cut back even more on public data in recent months. States have explained that they cut back on public data because of a decline in cases, even though they began making the change before the surge of the delta variant.

Prison And Jail Reentry And Health
Health Affairs
Health Affairs Prison And Jail Reentry And Health In this policy brief, Health Affairs presents a summary of the many challenging health care issues that people reentering society confront. Two the key points were that aass incarceration is a public health crisis that disproportionately affects Black and Brown people and that public officials should include health care as a key component of community reentry programming by supporting access to Medicaid.

After Census, States Move to Count Prisoners at Home
The Hill
A growing number of state and local governments are using a new set of data produced by the U.S. Census Bureau to recalculate the residences of hundreds of thousands of prison inmates who are serving their sentences far away from their homes. Legislatures in Connecticut and New Jersey have passed new laws this year that require state redistricting panels to count those who are incarcerated as living at their home addresses.

The Business Case for Criminal Justice Reform: Second Chance Hiring
US Chamber of Commerce
An estimated 70 million people in the U.S. have an arrest or conviction record, and over 600,000 men and women are released from jail each year. Successfully reintegrating these individuals brings many advantages. First, there are advantages to these individuals who can get a fresh start supporting and taking care of themselves and their families. Second, employers can benefit by tapping into a talented labor force to meet their workforce needs.

Louisiana Deaths Behind Bars
Incarceration Transparency
Incarceration Transparency features an interactive map of Louisiana’s sixty-four parishes (the state’s equivalent of counties). If a user clicks on a parish, the names of the correctional facilities within its borders appear, along with a list of people who have died in those facilities in recent years. Next to each entry are the person’s race and sex. There are links to documents related to each case.

Senate Clears Whitehouse-Cornyn Bill To Fight Substance Use In Jails & Prisons
Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
The Senate has passed the bipartisan Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act of 2021 by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill will expand access to substance use treatment in jails and prisons around the country, and help those exiting correctional facilities continue their treatment in the community. The bill’s passage follows Whitehouse and Cornyn’s success in passing federal corrections reforms in 2018.

Cassidy, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Provide Medicaid Due Process for Americans Awaiting Trial
Office of Senator Bill Cassidy
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Due Process Continuity of Care Act. The bill amends Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy (MIEP) to ensure that pre-trial detainees are not kicked off Medicaid prior to ever being found guilty of a crime. MIEP denies federal benefits to individuals who are incarcerated and applies both to those who have been found guilty of a crime and those held pending adjudication.

Medical debt was cut nearly in half in states that expanded Medicaid
Medicaid expansion doesn’t just provide more people health insurance — it appears to cut medical debt enormously. The Affordable Care Act offered states a huge infusion of federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults, and about 30 states took that deal right away. Since then, new medical debt in those states has fallen 44 percent, a bigger drop than was seen in the states that refused to expand the program. Those states showed only a 10 percent decline.

Tracking Incarcerated Individual Mortality in Local Jails
Mortality trends in most of America’s 3000 local jails are almost impossible to discern because jail-by-jail death data collected by the federal government is kept secret—unavailable to the public, news organizations and researchers, and even government officials. Reuters filled the information gap by requesting 12 years of death data from 523 local jails. This data shows that mortality rates in these institutions are two or three times the national average.

They Called for Help. They’d Always Regret It
The Atlantic
Two families called 911 to get help for their sons. They didn’t know that they’d be thrusting them into a complex and often brutal system. Death rates—especially suicide rates—in American jails continue to rise. Most people sucked into the system are at the mercy of forces outside their control, and diversion opportunities remain rare.

Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities
White House
From President Joe Biden's executive order: More than two million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, including a disproportionate number of people of color. To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate by phasing out the Federal Government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities.

Jail deaths in America: data and key findings
Reuters journalists filed more than 1,500 public records requests to gain death data from 2008 to 2019 in the nation’s biggest jails. Jail by jail and state by state, Reuters is making that information available to the public. Reuters examined every large jail in the United States, those with 750 or more inmates. And, to ensure it examined deaths across the country, it obtained data for the 10 largest jails in each state. The data covers 523 jails or jail systems and are available both in PDFs and CSV files.

Decarcerating Correctional Facilities during COVID-19
The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine
This report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends corrections officials and public health authorities work together to determine the optimal population for jails and prisons. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, authorities should use their discretion to minimize incarceration in prisons and jails — and facilitate testing, quarantine, social supports, and individualized reentry plans for those released.

What the REFORM Alliance's victory means for criminal justice reform
The Hill
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has ushered in a number of criminal justice reforms, including changes to the systems of adult probation, juvenile justice and policing. AB1950 would reduce probationary periods from three years to one for misdemeanors and five years to two for most felonies. According to the REFORM Alliance, violations of California's probation and parole system cost the state about $2 billion per year.

Medicaid Reentry Stakeholder Group
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
On October 1, HHS published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting nominations of individuals to serve on a stakeholder advisory committee on Medicaid reentry transitions, as required by Congress in the SUPPORT Act. The purpose of the group is to provide advice and consultation to the Secretary on innovative strategies to help individuals who are inmates of public institutions, and otherwise eligible for Medicaid. Nominations are due October 23, 2020.

When Torture Is a Health Precaution
Jewish Currents
Department of Corrections err on the side of caution when it comes to quarantining incarcerated individuals who may have had contact with a COVID-19 positive individual. Health experts warn that the use of punitive medical isolation can deter prisoners from reporting symptoms, and that solitary confinement has been shown to weaken the immune system, making its use an obstacle to protecting health.

COVID-19 in U.S. State and Federal Prisons
National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice
Using data from a variety of sources, this report contributes to the understanding of COVID-19 outbreaks within state and federal prisons by addressing: 1) How do overall COVID-19 case and mortality rates within state and federal prisons compare with rates for the general population, both before and after adjusting for the age, race/ethnicity, and sex of people in prison? 2) How do COVID-19 infections vary by the type and location of a prison?

Mass Testing for SARS-CoV-2 in 16 Prisons and Jails — Six Jurisdictions, United States, April–May 2020
Correctional facilities that resisted mass coronavirus testing for inmates erred in their decision to only test inmates with symptoms, leading to large initial undercounts, a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggested. The study released this week examined 13 prisons and jails. Most of the institutions waited several days or weeks before the first identified case of COVID-19 and the beginning of mass inmate testing.

Lawyers For Equal Justice
The Hawai'ian Supreme Court designed a process that allowed individuals incarcerated for lower-level offenses to petition lower courts for release. The process provided an opportunity for prosecutors to object to release, and allowed releases only if the judge was satisfied release would not endanger the public. Despite this success, media coverage of the release initiative was overwhelmingly negative.The outbreak that the Supreme Court tried so desperately to avert in April is now upon us.

Small but Growing Group Incarcerated For a Month or More Has Kept Jail Populations High
The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the more than 700,000 people in jails across the United States because of the potential for spread of the virus to those working and confined there. Concentrated efforts to reduce admissions and increase releases from jails in recent weeks have resulted in significant population drops in many of these local facilities. This change represents a sharp contrast to pre-pandemic trends.

States Could Save Lives by Expanding Compassionate Release during COVID-19 and Beyond
Urban Institute
One immediate way to protect people in prison and prevent the spread of the coronavirus is to substantially reduce (PDF) the prison population. Media’s attention has been on the federal government’s failed response in federal prisons, but scant attention has been paid to state prisons. Some prisons have started doing so, trailing behind efforts by jails, but it is not enough. Further, these releases have increased racial disparities; states such as Illinois are releasing Black people from prison at lower rates than their white counterparts.

Congress Must Respond to Deep Health Inequities for Black People During COVID-19: Medicaid is the Lever
Community Catalyst and National Medical Association
Community Catalyst and National Medical Association has prepared a policy paper on actions the United States Congress can take to acknowledge the structural inequities of our health care system by investing in what people need during a health crisis that threatens their security. These include: invest in the Medicaid program, invest in Medicaid providers, incentivize states to expand Medicaid, support Medicaid connections in reentry, and extend Medicaid postpartum to reduce mortality.

How COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons Threatens Nearby Communities
Two new studies show that jails can contribute enormously to coronavirus case totals outside their walls. Depending on the social distancing measures put in place, community spread from infections in jails could add between 99,000 and 188,000 people to the virus’ U.S. death toll, according to a modeling study recently published by the American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Tennessee and Washington State University.

The Reentry Act: Vikki Wachino's Letter
In a letter to our partners and friends, Vikki Wachino, COCHS CEO, stresses that the Reentry Act would strengthen Medicaid’s role and allow it to support reentry services as an essential component of an overall public health strategy to reduce transmission of the coronavirus and mitigate future COVID surges. Under current law, Medicaid does not cover health services when people are incarcerated. Incarcerated people are considered “inmates of a public institution” and barred from receiving Medicaid benefits, even though most detained individuals are Medicaid eligible.

Scripps National News Interviews Vikki Wachino about the Reentry Act and Correctional Health Coordinators
Scripps National News
Vikki Wachino discusses how relief legislation moving through Congress needs to address COVID-19 in prisons and jails. She describes how the Reentry Act would allow Medicaid to cover incarcerated people 30 days before release, improving public health and safety. Vikki also mentioned the potential impact of COCHS' proposal for Correctional Health Coordinators to improve the COVID emergency response in prisons and jails.

COVID-19 State Preparedness Handbook
The United States of Care
The United States of Care's handbook on COVID-19 preparedness lists five actions states should be taking to reopen safely. For protecting and fortifying sites at a high risk of transmission the handbook recommends that states need to build a strong, coordinated criminal justice system response plan in partnership with jails and prisons, including designating a person in charge of coordinating and implementing the state’s COVID response. The recommendation (page 7) provides a link to COCHS' proposal for state and federal Correctional Health Coordinators.

A public health approach to COVID-19 and the health crisis in America’s criminal justice system
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in a letter to congressional leaders wrote: We urge Congress to act on recommendations from the Community Oriented Correctional Health Services’ proposal “Establishing State and Federal Correctional Health Coordinators to respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic”. This proposal emphasizes the importance of creating a coordinated response across the criminal justice system.

Incarcerated people need health coverage to help stop drug overdose—and stem COVID-19 spread
Fierce Healthcare
Releasing individuals who are incarcerated without connections to healthcare providers, medical coverage, safe and stable housing, or a support system can greatly increase their risk of relapse, overdose, and death. To stem the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a further escalation of drug overdose deaths, Congress must pass bipartisan legislation to ensure that Americans who are incarcerated and at high risk for infection and poor outcomes can access the medical services they need.

Heroes Act
The United States House of Representatives
On May 15, the United States House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), which included a provision relating to the health of justice-involved individuals. Section 30110 would amend the Social Security Act to allow for Medicaid to pay for services to detained individuals thirty days before release. If the Senate were to also include this provision in its legislation, it would result in a substantial step forward removing the discontinuities in the healthcare system caused by the Social Security Act's ban of Medicaid services for Medicaid-eligible inmates of a public institution.

Racial Health Disparities and Covid-19 — Caution and Context
The New England Journal of Medicine
Although Covid-19 is currently affecting a wide enough swath of the U.S. population, so that it is unlikely in the near term to make the pandemic a "racial" issue, but in the future, the communities that are least able to buffer themselves against infection may find their ranks disproportionately represented in Covid-19 data, and the door may be opened to all-too-familiar mobilizations of racialized rhetoric.

UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project
In March 2020, in the face of the increasing danger posed by Covid-19 to people held in jails and prisons, the UCLA Prison Law and Policy Program launched the UCLA Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project. The Project tracks Covid-19 conditions in jails and prisons and the efforts — both in and out of court — to decrease jail and prison populations and improve conditions to ensure the safety of residents and staff.

Supreme Court: Inslee, Washington state must protect inmates from virus
Q13 Fox
The Washington Supreme Court late Friday told Gov. Jay Inslee to protect the health of inmates in the state during the coronavirus outbreak and gave officials until Monday to detail the steps that have been taken. At least seven inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex — the second largest prison in the state — have the disease and officials are awaiting results on 54 other cases, according to Department of Corrections.

Why Jails Are So Important in the Fight Against Coronavirus
New York Times
Picture thousands of cruise ships jammed with guests but short on hand sanitizer, protective gear and medical care. Every week, a quarter of the passengers get off, replaced by new people with the potential to either infect or be infected. There is a place like that in your community: the county jail, with a local sheriff, in charge of preventing Covid-19 outbreaks but having limited supplies and no say who enters and leaves.

Bail suspended, remote hearings approved by California’s judicial leaders
San Francisoc Chronicle
California judicial leaders, to help courts cope with the coronavirus, voted Monday, April 6, 2020 to eliminate bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies and to allow pretrial proceedings to be conducted remotely. The temporary measures, which also included limits on evictions and home foreclosures, are intended “to preserve rights and ultimately preserve lives,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said at the teleconference of the state Judicial Council.

Sheriff, supervisors should better define jail healthcare goals, study says
San Diego Union Tribune
Elected leaders in San Diego County should consider taking a more comprehensive approach to the health care provided to thousands of inmates housed in local jails, a new study commissioned by the county says. Dr. Homer Venters, the report’s co-author said the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Bill Gore should redefine the level of care inmates receive in custody.

A Storm Is Coming’: Fears of an Inmate Epidemic as the Virus Spreads in the Jails
The New York Times
In jails and prisons across the country, concerns are rising of a coronavirus outbreak behind bars. Already, cases have been reported. On Friday, someone who works in a Washington State prison tested positive for the virus, and the day before, the sheriff in Hancock County, Ind., said a staff member at the local jail was being isolated at home after a positive test. On Tuesday night, an employee at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility had tested positive.

Conversation about COVID-19 and the justice system
The Vera Institute of Justice
Unable to practice social distancing or to easily access soap or hand sanitizer (which is still considered contraband in most prisons), people behind bars live in settings that are, tragically, ideal incubators for the spread of COVID-19. In this recording, many experts including Dr. Homer Venters, discuss what has been learned so far.

Coronavirus behind bars: 4 priorities to save the lives of prisoners
The Hill
In an op-ed for The Hill, Homer Venters writes: The mortal threat that COVID-19 represents to health and well-being is no longer in dispute. There is no part of American society that is less prepared for coronavirus or graver a threat to health than jails, prisons and immigration detention centers. COVID-19 has now arrived in these institutions.

How Prisons and Jails Can Respond to the Coronavirus
The New Yorker
No one can predict exactly what will happen if the coronavirus starts to spread inside American jails and prisons, but Homer Venters can make some very educated guesses. Venters, the former chief medical officer on Rikers Island, trained as a physician and an epidemiologist, and, in 2009, he helped oversee efforts to contain the outbreak of the H1N1 virus inside New York City’s jails.

What COVID-19 Means For America’s Incarcerated Population — And How To Ensure It’s Not Left Behind
Health Affairs
With nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population, the United States is home to an ailing prison health care system and its large aging subpopulation. Our nation’s experience with tuberculosis, HIV and the ongoing hepatitis C epidemic has taught us that correctional settings are reservoirs of infectious diseases. Prisons push people into the paths of epidemics. Yet for those 2.4 million people under judicial custody, public guidelines and preparedness are lacking to curtail their burden of infectious diseases.

An Epicenter of the Pandemic Will Be Jails and Prisons, if Inaction Continues
The New York Times
If you think a cruise ship is a dangerous place to be during a pandemic, consider America’s jails and prisons. The new coronavirus spreads at its quickest in closed environments. As this new disease spreads, it has become equally important for all of us to ask what steps are being taken to protect the health of people in jails and prisons, and the staff who work in them. How will we prevent incarcerated people and those who work in these institutions from becoming ill and spreading the virus?

Coronavirus Could Cause ‘Public Health Catastrophe’ in Overcrowded Jails Warns Prison Reform Group The Sentencing Project


Crowded cells in jails across the U.S. could help the rapid spread of coronavirus, penal reform groups have warned. The Sentencing Project has called on public officials to release people in jail who do not pose a public safety risk, such as those housed in pre-trial detention or rehabilitated people. The Sentencing Project’s Nazgol Ghandnoosh said to Newsweek: Existing unsanitary and overcrowded prison and jail conditions will exacerbate the spread of the new coronavirus.

Healing the Nation
Well Being Trust
In an executive summary Well Being Trust identifies specific federal legislative and regulatory actions that policy makers can take, right now, to improve the nation’s approach to mental health. This includes justice involved individuals: Millions of people with mental health conditions have contact with justice systems for various offenses—often minor—in large part because they did not receive the mental health care. This guide provides solutions for diversion, care while incarcerated, and improving re-entry into communities.

How Health Information Exchange (HIE) can improve mental healthcare in prison

Healthcare IT News

How an inmate in Colorado receives mental health treatment while in custody directly affects both the quality and the cost of their care on release. In Colorado recent legislation spurred a pilot connecting county hospitals and jails via HIE. These networks enable a more seamless transition of care between outside and correctional medical care, say Kate Horle, Chief Operations Officer at CORHIO, and Danielle Culp, Health IT Exchange Coordinator with the Office of Behavioral Health.

Another dubious rubber stamp for a dangerous East Bay jail

San Francisco Chronicle

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office recently presented the results of the American Correctional Association’s (ACA) latest audit of Santa Rita Jail to a Board of Supervisors committee. Its glowing conclusions are absurd and indefensible. The ACA supposed purpose is to ensure that corrections facilities adhere to health and safety standards, however it endangers the lives of incarcerated people by offering a stamp of approval to prisons and jails regardless of the conditions within.

4 ways to protect our jails and prisons from coronavirus

The Hill

In an Op-ed for The Hill, Homer Venters writes: When COVID-19 arrives in a community, it will show up in jails and prisons. People in the U.S. are incarcerated at a rate of about one million [per month], and the number of correctional staff and families who visit these places is even greater. Our efforts should focus on the reality that COVID won’t be kept out [of correctional facilities].

TASC-CHJ Treatment Capacity Expansion Series


TASC is offering a series of briefs to help communities develop treatment capacity, address gaps in services, and deliver coordinated care. These briefs offer information and guidance to support communities in their planning efforts and strategies for action. They are intended to aid local planning groups, community leaders, and their partners in collaborative efforts to expand community-based substance use disorder treatment.

It’s time to eliminate the drunk tank

The Hill

The modern iteration of the drunk tank is something called a sobering cell. This is a holding cell, usually in the intake area of a county jail, where a person who is thought to be acutely intoxicated will be held. One of the dangerous aspects of this practice is that the person thought to be intoxicated is often put into one of these cells before they receive the standard medical screening by jail health staff.

Successful Decarceration Relies On Access To Health Care

Health Affairs

For those of us involved in criminal justice reform, it is thrilling to see policy makers on both sides of the aisle develop proposals to advance decarceration. Returning people home from prison will be only half of the battle, though. There are many factors that must come together for a successful re-entry, including housing, work, and family support systems. One factor that too often is ignored is access to health care.

Former Rikers Island medical chief to lead study of San Diego County jails

San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego County has selected COCHS to perform a “best practices” review of the local jail system, a study the Board of Supervisors commissioned in response to a six-month investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune into the high death rate among inmates. The San Diego study will be supervised by Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer at New York City Correctional Health Services who took over as the nonprofit’s president in January.