Weekly Update: May 11, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: May 11, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Axios: Home confinees face imminent return to prison
Thousands of prisoners who've been in home confinement for as long as a year because of the pandemic face returning to prison when it's over — unless President Biden rescinds a last-minute Trump Justice Department memo. Most prisoners were told they would not have to come back as they were released early with ankle bracelets. Now, their lives are on hold while they wait to see whether or when they may be forced back behind bars. Advocates say about 4,500 people are affected.

New York Times: Granted Parole or Awaiting Trial, Inmates Died of Covid-19 Behind Bars
Joe Dan Channel was granted parole from a Texas prison in late 2019. But the 62-year-old man was still behind bars several months later when he fell ill with the coronavirus and died only a few weeks before his release date. The coronavirus tore through the nation’s prisons, jails and immigration detention centers over the past year, killing more than 2,700 people who were incarcerated. Dozens of them died after being approved for release by a parole board or while being held in jail without a conviction.

NPR Illinois: Supreme Court Weighs Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments May 4 in a case involving sentencing disparities between people found guilty of possessing crack cocaine and those possessing powdered forms, and whether recent changes in federal law should apply retroactively to those given long prison terms for small amounts of crack. The case stems from changes to the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which put in place sentences for crack cocaine possession that were 100 times more severe than those for the powered form of the drug. The disparity was seen by many as racially motivated, as those sentenced for crack possession were proportionally more likely to be Black.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

NCCHC: Rhode Island DOC’s Vaccine Acceptance Success Story
Millions of Americans are being vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, bringing us closer and closer to the goal of herd immunity. But in the nation’s jails and prisons, where the incarcerated are three times more likely to die of COVID-19, many incarcerated people and staff members are refusing the shot out of fear, lack of trust, and misinformation. RIDOC’s secret? A combination of committed leadership, consistent education, and clear communication, with a healthy dose of trust and teamwork thrown in.

King 5: Monroe prison gave outdated COVID-19 vaccines to inmates, state says
Health staff at a state-run prison in Monroe (WA) vaccinated about 208 incarcerated individuals with COVID-19 shots that had been past their "beyond use" date, according to the State Department of Corrections. The issue at the Monroe Correctional Complex was discovered during quality assurance checks, according to the state. The state said it had contacted the vaccine manufacturer, Moderna, and the company said that the vaccine doses were still effective in providing protection against COVID-19.

AP: Vaccination rate among Arkansas prison staff worries experts
Sluggish COVID-19 vaccination rates for Arkansas prison workers are raising concerns about the prison system’s ability to ward off disease during the pandemic’s next phase and against more-contagious variants, according to public health and incarceration experts. The corrections department can’t require the shots. A new state law which took effect last month prohibits state agencies from requiring their workers to be vaccinated without seeking special permission from the Legislature. It wasn’t clear if problems with vaccination reluctance among prison staff members extended to jails in the state’s most populous counties.

VT Digger: Vaccination refusal rate among prisoners holds steady amid differing views
1,200 Vermont incarcerated individuals have been offered the vaccine across the state’s correctional system, which is currently reporting a refusal rate of 34% (810 people who have gotten the shot; 421 have declined). That’s only slightly lower than last month, when the refusal rate was 35%. Clinics have now been offered at all of the Vermont prison facilities and all incarcerated individuals are eligible for the vaccine. A corrections department spokesperson, said Friday that the department is working on an educational effort to help address the concerns of those who have so far refused vaccination.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

Keloland: Certain conditions make prisons ripe for COVID-19, studies say
Prisons with often-cramped quarters, older heating and cooling systems, and shared spaces are ripe breeding grounds for the coronavirus and other illnesses, multiple studies and research shows. South Dakota’s incarceration rate of 855 people per 100,000 is higher than the national average, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The rate includes prison, jails, juvenile detention facilities and immigration detention. In a June 25 report, the PPI and American Civil Liberties Union graded each state on COVID-19 response. South Dakota received an F. But no state received a grade higher than a D-.

State Journal-Register: Watchdog report finds COVID-19 safety protocols not enforced at Pulaski County jail
An unannounced inspection by federal authorities of the Pulaski County Detention Center found that supervisors were not enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, such as masking and social distancing requirements, for inmates being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The jail in Pulaski County, which is in the southernmost part of Illinois and borders Kentucky, houses inmates from Pulaski and Alexander counties, as well as individuals who are arrested by ICE and face deportation.

COVID-19 Lawsuits in Corrections

NJ.com: N.J. jail needs an outside monitor after inmates sound alarm about COVID conditions, judge rules
A special master will be appointed to oversee a New Jersey jail after inmates filed a class action lawsuit alleging the county and jail officials failed to properly protect them during the coronavirus pandemic. Cumberland County has agreed to enter into a consent decree that will appoint a special master to oversee the jail and to pay all fees related to the ongoing supervision.

Correctional Officers' Unions and Healthcare

The City: Rikers Staff Sick Call Spike Spurs Lockdown, Trapping Mentally Ill in Cells
For the first time in years, city jail officials put a Rikers Island facility housing seriously mental ill detainees on lockdown because there were not enough available officers. Some 1,200 correction officers called out sick that day and another 700 or so were on medically restricted duty for various health reasons, Correction Department records show. That forced some officers to work triple or quadruple shifts. The 1,901 detainees in the Rikers lockup, including many with mental health issues, were required to stay in their cells, without recreation time.

VT Digger: Corrections, union agree on staffing woes, but trade barbs over differing numbers
Two housing units at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans have been closed, and prisoners there have been transferred to another facility. Exactly why the units closed and what it means depends on who you ask. Although precise staffing levels are in dispute between corrections workers and administrators, both agree staffing is an issue. Steve Howard, executive director of the Vermont State Employees’ Association, the union representing corrections officers, raised the closing of the housing units during testimony Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Government Operations. Staffing at that facility and across the correctional system is at a crisis level.

Voices of the Incarcerated

The New Yorker: An Artist on How He Survived the Chain Gang
On March 31st, the artist Winfred Rembert died, at the age of seventy-five. He was born in 1945 and grew up in Cuthbert, Georgia, where he picked cotton as a child. As a teen-ager, he got involved in the civil-rights movement and was arrested in the aftermath of a demonstration. He later broke out of jail, survived a near-lynching, and spent seven years in prison, where he was forced to labor on chain gangs.

Healthcare Initiatives in Corrections

Post and Courier: Partnership between MUSC SC prisons should improve inmate care, save money
An innovative new partnership between the Medical University of South Carolina and the state Department of Corrections takes a promising step toward improving health care for the state’s roughly 15,000 prisoners. As the severe impact of COVID-19 on inmate health demonstrated, the partnership is greatly needed. This summer, the MUSC Health Chester Medical Center will begin to build a prison-standard secure hospital wing that will start admitting patients in the summer of 2022. Today, when a prisoner has to go to a hospital, he or she must be accompanied by two correctional officers. The new secure hospital wing will allow the Department of Corrections to reduce the number of correctional officers needed for this task, saving as many as 200 slots that can be restored to prison duty.

Mental Health Initiatives in Corrections

USA Today Opinion: As a psychologist and a jail warden, my duty was to bring humanity to an inhumane system
In an opinion piece, Nneka Jones Tapia, writes: Jail epitomizes how America uses incarceration as a catch-all for every social ill we face. After serving for years as a staff and chief psychologist at Illinois' Cook County Jail, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart appointed me warden. As a Black woman, I did not want to be a representative of that dysfunction. I decided to decline the appointment as warden. But my father persuaded me to take the job. The first thing we did was lift the wall between the people who were confined and the staff. We launched onsite programming for mental wellness, substance use, education and job training, which were often led by health care professionals, community organizations and correctional staff whom we trained.

Shawnee Mission Post: Johnson County Jail’s mental health screening reduced recidivism, Notre Dame study finds
Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities conducted a study on the jail mental health screening that’s been implemented at Johnson County Jail — through a partnership between the Sheriff’s Office and Johnson County Mental Health Center — since November 2016. During the booking process, inmates answer six questions about symptoms of serious mental illnesses as well as medication and in-patient mental health care history. The screening is intended to flag inmates who are at-risk of mental health issues, and the data is entered into a digital information system the county uses. Once the information is in the system, an electronic notice pings Johnson County Mental Health staff when someone who is considered at-risk is released from jail. Not only does the screening reduce recidivism among those with mental illnesses, but it also helps keep the jail’s population count low, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden said.

Everything Lubbock: Lubbock County Detention Center puts emphasis on mental health resources for inmates
May is Mental Health Awareness and Lubbock County Detention Center (TX) said they continue to provide mental health resources to inmates with mental illness. Sheriff Kelly Rowe, said they offer a 40 hour Crisis Intervention certification program for deputies to learn how to interact and communicate with inmates who have a mental illness. Rowe said the training, along with outside mental health resources are needed. More mentally ill persons are landing in the criminal justice system. Almost half of the inmates booked into Lubbock County Detention Center have had a mental illness.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Washington Post: Pandemic lockdown at D.C. jail shortened to 22 hours a day
D.C. jail inmates, who have been subjected to a strict lockdown since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, are finally getting some relief, though not much: After more than a year of being kept in their cells for 23 hours a day as a medical precaution, they are now being let out for two hours instead of one. Those and other planned improvements in the quality of life for inmates are far too modest, said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. Mental health experts have said that lockdowns lasting nearly around-the-clock — amounting to almost constant solitary confinement — can be psychologically debilitating for prisoners.

Correctional Healthcare Vendors and Private Prisons

Fox2 KTVU: Santa Rita Jail's medical provider is target of lawsuits, complaints about lack of care
Five years after Alameda County dumped the jail’s healthcare provider, Corizon Health and hired Wellpath to take over, problems and deaths persist. Over the last eight months, a hotline for those incarcerated at Santa Rita in Dublin received 1,000 calls; nearly half of the callers complained about some type of medical neglect, advocates with the National Lawyers Guild said. While Wellpath is not responsible for mental health care, Santa Rita was also put on notice last month by the U.S. Attorney General following a Department of Justice report that found the jail’s mental healthcare practices and overuse of isolation are unconstitutional.

The Union: Something amiss in jail health care
In a letter to the editor, Paul Halstead, a member of the Nevada County Community Oversight Task Force, writes: Wellpath had been sued numerous times in California for not providing appropriate medical and mental health treatment to inmates, which resulted in serious injury and death. I recommended that the county require Wellpath to become accredited with the National Institute of Medical Quality. But it wasn’t until the most recent contract renewal, January 2021, that the county required Wellpath to become accredited. According to the terms of the contract, Wellpath has 18 months to receive accreditation. As of this date, they have not applied.

Tennessean: DOJ investigating after CoreCivic employees were found to have ignored man's suicidal threats
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating after Tennessee authorities found CoreCivic employees ignored a man's suicidal threats and falsified medical records. Addison Smith, 27, died by suicide while incarcerated at South Central Correctional Center in Clifton in August 2019. His parents brought a federal lawsuit against CoreCivic, a private prison company, last August.