Weekly Update: February 02, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: February 02, 2021

Private Prisons

The White House: Executive Order on Reforming Our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities
From the policy section of 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. There is broad consensus that our current system of mass incarceration imposes significant costs and hardships on our society and communities and does not make us safer. 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.

Reuters: U.S. private prison revenue under pressure from new Biden rules
CoreCivic and the GEO Group, two of the largest U.S. private prison companies, could lose as much as a quarter of their revenue, about $1 billion a year between them, under new limits on the sector from President Joe Biden. Shares in GEO Group and CoreCivic took a hit after Biden signed an executive order to roll back the U.S. government’s use of private prisons, a part of what he called an initiative to tackle systemic racism. The action left both stocks near their lowest levels in more than a decade.

Bloomberg: Biden Targets Housing, Private Prisons in First Equality Moves
Biden wants to end mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects people of color, according to the White House. He ordered the attorney general not to renew contracts with privately operated detention facilities -- reversing the Trump administration’s approach -- saying those prisons profit from keeping inmates in less safe conditions. The move may affect the country’s two largest operators of private prisons, GEO Group and CoreCivic, which saw their share prices gain significantly after Trump was elected in 2016.

COVID-19 Early Release

The Hill: ACLU pressing Biden to stick to promise of decarceration with new ad buy
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is launching a six-figure ad buy featuring both digital and print spots calling for President Biden to adhere to his campaign promise of decreasing the number of incarcerated persons in the country. Specifically, the ACLU wants Biden to grant clemency to thousands of people who meet certain criteria, something that he could do through executive powers. “We use criteria that reflect an evolution in our thinking around criminal justice,” stated Cynthia Roseberry, deputy director of the ACLU’s justice division. She called for those who are now incarcerated, but who if they were sentenced today, would not receive the same sentence [to be released] and calling for the elderly to be released … people who are vulnerable to [COVID-19].

The Mercury News: Bay Area activists say prisoners deserve COVID-19 relief in new protest Sunday
A car caravan Sunday marked the latest attempt to draw attention to the plight of the state’s incarcerated population amid major prison and jail outbreaks of COVID-19. The rally that took about 100 cars over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco was the latest protest in an eight-month campaign that has become part of a broader conversation about health equity and prison reform. Advocates for release say those who spend decades in prison have suffered enough from a law-and-order era that led to the three-strikes laws of the early 1990s.

Chattanooga Times Free Press: Inmate allowed home confinement after complaining of health conditions at Silverdale jail
Two weeks after a Silverdale Detention Center inmate told a Hamilton County Criminal Court judge that he wasn't always receiving his prescribed daily medication and had to "cause a scene" at least twice in order to get it, the judge issued an order allowing the man to finish his sentence on house arrest. After multiple hearings, Criminal Court Judge Don Poole found that it did appear that the inmate had "missed his medication on many occasions and his blood test was only taken the day before he came to court on the second occasion" while under the care of CoreCivic.

COVID-19 Tracking Infections and Deaths

The New York Times: Mississippi Prison Officials Tout Low Rates of Covid. The Reason May Be Fewer Tests.
Mississippi officials boast of having one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates among state prison systems, but 10 months into the pandemic, the state’s rate of testing is also among the lowest. At South Mississippi Correctional Institution, inmates said they bartered Honey Bun snack cakes for smuggled bleach in a desperate attempt to avoid the coronavirus, which has sickened nearly 400 men at the prison. Even as some fell ill, they said the prison refused to test them. Mississippi has tested just 20 percent of its prisoners. Among those tested, the infection rate was more than 40 percent, a far higher positive rate than in neighboring Alabama.

Spotlight PA: Confronted with significant flaws in coronavirus data, Pa. corrections officials concede it’s unacceptable
The Department of Corrections is reporting flawed data to keep inmates, families, and public officials informed about COVID-19 in its prisons, raising questions about the agency’s ability to accurately track the extent of the outbreak. A five-month analysis of prison data by Spotlight PA found large fluctuations in the number of tests administered and unexplained changes to the death count. In an announcement Friday, sent just before this story was published, corrections secretary John Wetzel said he was taking action to fix the problems.

inewsource: As prisons and jails in California battle COVID-19, some inmate deaths go uncounted
COVID-19 cases in California prisons and jails began to dramatically surge late last year, but there is no way to get an accurate picture of the pandemic inside these facilities because officials use different approaches to count in-custody deaths tied to the coronavirus. Undercounting COVID-19 deaths puts those incarcerated and detention center staff at risk because it leaves an impression that jails and prisons are doing a better job containing the virus than they actually are, said UCLA law professor Sharon Dolovich, who directs the university’s Prison Law and Policy Program.

COVID-19 Vaccines in Corrections

Chicago Sun Times: Protect communities by vaccinating inmates
Synthia Peterson, an RN for Wellpath, writes: I am one of tens of thousands correctional nurses nationwide working behind the walls in some of the largest congregate settings in the U.S. There is an urgent need to include workplaces like mine in planning and execution of vaccine distribution. Unlike long-term care facilities, jails and prisons have an ever changing population. Inmates, correctional officers and medical personnel work in close quarters and sometimes under extremely challenging circumstances. Correctional officers and nurses such as me go back out into the community after every shift. One of the biggest challenges is when an inmate is released. Sadly, a released inmate is very unlikely to receive health care outside the correctional setting. Symptoms of COVID-19 will go unchecked and illness maybe untreated for days, if not weeks.

Queens Daily Eagle: Less than 5% of Rikers inmates receive COVID vaccine
Less than 5 percent of New York City inmates have received the COVID-19 vaccine as the state delays rollout for people in jails and prisons statewide, city officials said Wednesday. At least 419 people currently behind bars have tested positive for COVID-19, including 36 who tested positive last week. The number of vaccinated inmates accounts for only about half of those authorized to receive their shots, based on information provided by Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference.

The New York Times: The High-Risk Group Left Out of New York’s Vaccine Rollout
When New York announced new vaccine eligibility guidelines two weeks ago covering millions of additional state residents, one particularly hard-hit group remained unmentioned: the nearly 50,000 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails. Now, with state supplies dwindling and no clear plan for vaccinating incarcerated people, the virus that tore through the state’s correctional facilities in the spring is roaring back behind bars.

The Union Leader: Prisons, jails gearing up for coronavirus vaccinations
Most New Hampshire prisons and jails are taking steps to deliver the coronavirus vaccine to inmates who meet the state’s Phase 1B requirements. The state Department of Corrections is waiting for doses of the vaccine and expects to begin vaccinating inmates at its three prison facilities soon. 162 inmates who are 65 or older meet the age qualification. Another 134 have two or more medical conditions that make them eligible for the vaccine.

The Mercury News: Santa Clara County public defenders ask to be vaccinated alongside incarcerated clients
Citing how they have to be in the same environments as their incarcerated clients, a group of over 100 Santa Clara County public defenders are asking county officials to put them in the same tier as jail inmates for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The attorneys spoke of how they have to forego safety to represent their clients in cramped courtrooms, and how they serve jailed defendants being held in facilities that have seen multiple large outbreaks since the start of the year.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

KSNT: Kansas health officials investigating fast-moving coronavirus at state prison
The prison in Winfield is dealing with an outbreak of the coronavirus, and Kansas’ top doctor is worried its speed in spreading is similar to new coronavirus variants. “They hadn’t had any COVID-19 for weeks and then a whole cluster of cases broke out,” said Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). The Kansas Department of Corrections shows 69 prisoners and eight workers at Winfield have the coronavirus. The KDHE says the Winfield outbreak is an example of why it is important to vaccinate prisoners and other people in congregate settings.

The Colorado Sun: More than half of Colorado’s prison population has likely been infected with coronavirus, report says
Likely more than half of the people held in Colorado prisons have been infected with the coronavirus, one of several astonishing numbers included in a report that calls for incarcerated and detained individuals to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. The report comes from the Colorado Health Institute. Researchers at the institute gathered data from official state and federal sources. Estimating prevalence rates is difficult in facilities where people are frequently moved or released. But the report concludes that more than half of people incarcerated in Colorado have been infected with the coronavirus.

Yes! Weekly: Forsyth jail inmate fears broken dishwasher is a factor in COVID-19 outbreak
Of the 584 residents in the Forsyth County Detention Center, 234 have tested positive for coronavirus since November, according to the COVID-19 Ongoing Outbreaks in Congregate Living Settings report the NC Department of Health and Human Services. James Wesley Rawls, a 47-year-old inmate who works in the detention center’s kitchen, believes that the machine used to wash serving trays may be a factor. Forsyth County Health Department records show that the Detention Center’s dishwasher machine was last inspected on Jan. 17, 2020. On that occasion, inspector Jill Sakamoto recorded the following comment: “Dishwasher machine not working in the kitchen."

The Roanoke Times: Roanoke jail reports 53 cases of COVID-19 among inmates
A new round of mass testing carried out at the Roanoke City Jail has found 53 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and another 14 cases among staff, according to the Roanoke City Sheriff’s Office. The results, announced Thursday, show a 12.4% positivity rate among the current inmate population of 427 people and an 8.4% positivity rate among the staff of 166 officers and other employees. The jail is working closely with the health department, officials said, and regular testing will continue until positive results cease or medical advisors feel it can be scaled back.

Mental Health in Corrections

The Atlantic: They Called for Help. They’d Always Regret It
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. The pandemic could have been used as a chance to rethink how our mentally ill population is cared for, but for now, most people sucked into the system are at the mercy of forces outside their control, and diversion opportunities remain rare.

Saporta Report: Mental health episodes are ending in Georgia jails. The state Legislature may make some changes.
Georgia jails are often doubling as the official response to peoples’ mental health crises. It’s not a good situation for anyone. Too often, neither the cops nor anybody else has a good option when somebody is experiencing a mental health episode that drives them to doing something dangerous. Some charge or other may keep a person in jail a day or two — but it doesn’t do anything to prevent the same episode happening again. Sheriffs, whether in a red or blue county, have no interest in booking the same people over and over and over for behavior that’s driven by a medical condition rather than criminal intent.

VT Digger: Covid-19 isolation in Vt. prisons raises concern about inmates’ mental health
As Covid-19 cases continue to crop up in Vermont’s prisons, officials worry the steps they’re taking to protect inmates from the virus could be harming their mental health. One person has died by suicide while quarantining in Vermont’s prison system during the pandemic. Michael Dupont, 36, an inmate at Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury was found dead last December — three days after he arrived at the prison and while he was being held in isolation.

Drug Epidemic - The Other Epidemic

The Washington Post: Biden moving to nix Trump plan on opioid-treatment prescriptions
The Biden administration is preparing to halt a last-minute plan by the Trump administration to let more physicians prescribe an opioid-treatment drug, said three officials with knowledge of the pending announcement. The Trump plan had been hailed by physicians as loosening requirements they said had slowed their response to the nation’s worsening opioid crisis. But some legal experts warned that the Department of Health and Human Services lacked the authority to issue guidelines that allowed physicians to avoid requirements mandated by Congress.

NPR: With Biden Team Focused On Other Crises, Experts Say Drug Epidemic Is Exploding
In the weeks after winning the November election, Joe Biden began naming officials to tackle the vortex of crises his administration would face on day one. But despite a soaring death rate from drug overdoses, which hit a grim new record in 2020, President Biden hasn't named permanent leaders for three key agencies tasked with tackling the drug epidemic: the Food and Drug Administration, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Hill: Oregon will offer support, treatment instead of prison as the first state to decriminalize all drugs
Measure 110, also known as the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, was approved by voters last year, reclassifying the possession of small amounts of drugs as a civil violation, subject to either a $100 fine or a completed health assessment by a designated center. The initiative uses taxes from the sale of marijuana, which was legalized in 2014, to partially finance addiction recovery centers and services. Under the new law, people who are found possessing drugs won’t be arrested, but instead will be connected to services such as treatment, peer support and recovery services, and even housing and job assistance if needed or wanted.

Sex Abuse in Corrections

The New York Times: 31 Guards Suspended at a Women’s Prison Plagued by Sexual Violence
The top administrator, 22 correctional officers and nine supervisors at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women have been suspended, state and union officials said. New Jersey’s attorney general’s office is investigating; the governor on Wednesday appointed a former comptroller to lead a separate, independent inquiry; and the State Assembly announced hearings into “widespread abuse and use of force.” Edna Mahan’s troubled history, and the large number of officers tied to the new allegations, led to immediate calls for the dismissal of the commissioner of corrections, Marcus O. Hicks.

Contraception in Corrections

Desert News: Are contraceptives essential health care? Legislators debate bill to give inmates birth control
A Utah legislator’s proposal to give contraceptives to jail inmates sparked a passionate debate about whether birth control qualifies as essential health care or an elective medication. HB102 would require jailers to provide inmates with the contraceptives they were already taking before their incarceration. While inmates usually don’t get pregnant while they’re in jail, the discontinuation of their birth control regimen creates risk if they have sex soon before or after as the average jail stay is 27 days — about the length of a woman’s menstrual cycle. They also face worse outcomes for themselves and their children due to their situation.

Hepatitis C

The Nevada Independent: State budgeting $6 million to treat life-threatening hepatitis C after inmates sue, say they were denied care
Nevada is budgeting $6 million to treat prisoners for hepatitis C — a liver disease that is far more prevalent in prison than in the general population and can be effectively cured, but at an expected cost of at least $17,000 per patient. The proposed expenditure comes after inmates lodged a class-action federal lawsuit against the Nevada Department of Corrections, arguing that they were being denied treatment. The state struck a settlement over the summer, agreeing to treat all the affected inmates by October 2023.

Housing for People Formerly Incarcerated

The Sacramento Bee: Closing 5 California prisons would free up money to house former inmates, Democrat says
California's prison population currently hovers around 94,000, a number the Legislative Analyst's Office predicts will hold steady for the next several years due to recent efforts to reform the criminal justice system. The numbers, down by tens of thousands of inmates from just a year ago, should allow California to close at least five prisons by 2025. That could help the state save up to $1.5 billion. Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, said he plans to unveil legislation Wednesday that would require allocating a portion of the savings to house formerly incarcerated Californians who might otherwise slip into homelessness upon release.