Previous What's New Postings

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 who runs the Community Oriented Correctional Health Services nonprofit consultancy, 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, President of COCHS 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.

Think Debtors Prisons Are a Thing of the Past? Not in Mississippi
Marshall Project
Mississippi appears to be the only state where judges lock people up for an indefinite time while they work to earn money to pay off court-ordered debts. While there is no comprehensive data, legal experts who study fines, fees and restitution say Mississippi is unique. Judges have sentenced hundreds of people a year to restitution centers around the state, almost always ordering them to stay until they pay off court fees, fines and restitution to victims.

How Denver Health is helping inmates with opioid addiction get treatment

9 News

Jails, historically, aren’t known as places of drug rehabilitation. But Dr. Sasha Rai, the Director of Behavioral Health Services for the Denver Sheriff’s Department of Health Services, is providing people in the Denver jail that option. Dr. Rai launched a Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT) program in Denver jails a couple of years ago with a small team of nurses and case managers from Denver Health. Last year, Rai’s team put 916 inmates on Opiate Withdrawal Protocol.

American Public Health Association - Supplement Issue
American Public Health Association
A supplement issue of the American Public Health Association examines the public health concerns surrounding mass incarceration, with research and perspectives on improving health outcomes for justice-involved populations, psychological distress in solitary confinement, the links between mass incarceration and climate change, the public health implications of criminal justice reform, and more. Included in this supplement is a review of Dr. Homer Venter’s book Life and Death in Rikers Island.

Three years after East Baton Rouge privatized jail health care, inmate death rate remains high
The Advocate
In August 2015 a group of nurses at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison described dire staffing shortages and inadequate mental health services that advocates blamed for an outsized inmate death rate in the jail. As a result, the parish Metro Council, contracted with CorrectHealth. But advocates, have so far been skeptical about CorrectHealth's accomplishments because people are still dying — double the national average. CorrectHealth 's internal investigations into the deaths are being withheld from public view.

County jail to adopt new healthcare system

The Madisonville Meteor

The Madison County jail will transform methods of providing healthcare to prisoners, as county commissioners accepted a proposal from Southern Health Partners to provide on-site and remote care for $62,120 a year. The change comes as a result of the Sandra Bland Act passed by the Texas legislature in 2017, which mandates county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.

L.A. County can help thousands of mentally ill inmates avoid arrest and homelessness, study finds
The Los Angeles Times
More than 60% of the inmates with a mental illness in the Los Angeles County Jail would be eligible for diversion if there were more facilities providing supportive care. Such a move would save the county hundreds of dollars a day in incarceration costs for each inmate and, for many, end a cycle of being arrested and released, then becoming homeless and getting arrested again, said the medical director of the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, Kristen Ochoa.

Medicaid expansion linked to fewer opioid deaths

Modern Healthcare

New research suggests Medicaid expansion helped reduce opioid overdose deaths by facilitating access to treatment. The study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, compared changes in opioid overdose rates in expansion states to changes within non-expansion states between 2001 and 2017, analyzing cause-of-death data from more than 3,100 counties across 49 states and the District of Columbia. The study found Medicaid expansion was associated with a 6% lower rate of overdose deaths compared with the rate in non-expansion states.

In Reversal, Counties and States Help Inmates Keep Medicaid
The Pew Trust
Federal law bars Medicaid recipients from accessing their full federal health benefits while incarcerated. But officials from both parties have pushed for changes to ensure little or no disruption of health benefits for pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime and make up most of the 612,000 people held in America’s county jails. In recent years, officials have increasingly implemented a stopgap measure to help inmates reactivate their Medicaid coverage upon release from jail or prison.

Telemedicine Is Revolutionizing Prison Health Care
For inmates who have chronic conditions, getting regular access to a specialist can mean major improvements in their health. But the logistics of getting that access can be complicated. Telemedicine in prison significantly simplifies this care. Physicians who previously had to deal with long travel times and extensive security can now see their patients from their own office. And patients who’d been traveling offsite for care only need to leave the prison for appointments that require in-person care.

Corrections budget shows savings due to Medicaid expansion...
Idaho Press
The Community-Based Substance Abuse Treatment portion of the Idaho Department of Correction budget shows a big drop in the governor’s recommended budget for next year – 29.7% less in state general funds. That’s almost entirely due to Medicaid expansion. Josh Tewalt, state corrections chief, said 93% of the parolees and probationers currently receiving services through the division are eligible for the newly expanded Medicaid program, so the state will save $2.8 million.

Marketing Psychiatric Drugs to Jailers and Judges
The Atlantic
During the twentieth century, pharmaceutical companies showed little interest in inmates. Then, in the 1980s and ’90s, “tough on crime” policies expanded the nation’s corrections population. Those developments had the unintended consequence of turning corrections into warehouses for the mentally ill. The relationship between drug companies and the criminal-justice system changed at the start of the millennium. Big pharmaceutical companies staged “product theaters” or “education luncheons” for correctional providers that show how their products could help treat inmates.

California jails use kinder approach to solitary confinement
69 News
More than a quarter of U.S. states and numerous smaller jurisdictions are looking for ways to reduce the use of solitary confinement which encourages alternatives to a practice, behavioral experts say is dehumanizing and can worsen mental illness. The new policies in California came after Prison Law Office sued seven of California’s 58 counties, alleging that conditions had grown inhumane as jails absorbed inmates who previously would have served their sentences in state prisons.

Ann McLane Kuster and Cory Booker: Medicaid should be available in prisons
The Washington Post
United States Representative Annie Kuster (D-NH) has teamed up with United States Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to sponsor a bill that would end the federal Medicaid Inmate Exclusion policy that bans inmates from participating and terminates those already covered by the program if they are incarcerated.

How America’s Health-Care System Makes Mass Incarceration Worse
New York Magazine
The prohibitive costs of America’s for-profit health-care system are well documented. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alabama. Sheriffs in 15 of its 67 counties of Alabama had issued so-called “medical bonds” to jail inmates — meaning they’d released sick detainees from custody when they needed medical treatment in order to avoid paying their medical bills.

A visit with my (incarcerated) mother
The Hill
In an opinion piece for The Hill, COCHS' Homer Venters writes that one of the hidden consequences of mass incarceration is its impact on families as they are separated from loved ones. Even when visitation happens, visitors are often forced to undergo harassment and humiliation as they navigate the visitation process. The impact of these practices falls disproportionately on women.