COCHS Weekly Update: September 22, 2020
Alleged Covert Hysterectomies In ICE Detention
The Washington Post: Pelosi demands probe after ICE nurse raises alarm over medical care, hysterectomies at detention center
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats demanded an investigation on Tuesday into claims by a nurse at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Georgia that detainees there have been denied basic medical care and possibly subjected to hysterectomies without their informed consent. Dawn Wooten, a registered nurse who worked full-time at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, outlined her allegations in a complaint filed on Monday to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General by a coalition of advocacy groups. In her complaint, Wooten said that she and other nurses had noticed female detainees getting hysterectomies at an improbable rate, and worried that the women didn’t understand what procedure they were receiving, as most medical staff members don’t speak Spanish.
The New York Times: Inquiry Ordered Into Claims Immigrants Had Unwanted Gynecology Procedures
The Department of Homeland Security is investigating allegations that immigrant women detained at a detention center run by LaSalle Corrections (another LaSalle Corrections story is available below) in Georgia underwent gynecological procedures without fully understanding or consenting to them. The allegations, some of which were submitted this week as part of a whistle-blower complaint by a nurse at the facility, already have prompted more than 170 members of Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to call for an immediate inquiry.
The Hill: Progressive Caucus co-chair: Whistleblower complaint raises questions about 'entire detention system'
Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D) Wednesday said she was briefed by lawyers representing women who allegedly received unwarranted hysterectomies while in custody at an immigration detention center in Georgia. In a Twitter thread, Jayapal said there may be a minimum of 17" women subjected to the procedure without proper verification of consent, and that the procedures were performed with the clear intention of sterilization." Jayapal, co-chair of the powerful Congressional Progressive Caucus, is the first public official to verify the claims first revealed in a whistleblower complaint filed Monday against the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia.
The Guardian: More migrant women say they did not consent to surgeries at Ice center
Sitting across from her lawyer at an immigration detention center in rural Georgia, Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez unbuttoned her jail jumpsuit to show the scars on her abdomen. There were three small, circular marks. The 39-year-old woman from Cuba was told only that she would undergo an operation to treat her ovarian cysts, but a month later, she’s still not sure what procedure she got. After Cardentey repeatedly requested her medical records to find out, Irwin county detention center gave her more than 100 pages showing a diagnosis of cysts but nothing from the day of the surgery. Cardentey kept her hospital bracelet. It has the date, 14 August, and part of the doctor’s name, Dr Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist linked this week to allegations of unwanted hysterectomies and other procedures done on detained immigrant women that jeopardize their ability to have children.
Systemic Racism's Impact On Criminal Justice and Health
The Root: A Judge Asked Harvard to Find Out Why So Many Black People Were In Prison. They Could Only Find 1 Answer: Systemic Racism
According to 2016 data from the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, 655 of every 100,000 Black people in Massachusetts are in prison. Meanwhile, the state locks up 82 of its white citizens for every 100,000 who reside in the state. While an eight-to-one racial disparity might seem like a lot for one criminal justice system, nationwide, African Americans are imprisoned at almost six times the rate of white people. After gathering the raw numbers from nearly every government agency in the state’s criminal justice system, examining the data, and researching the disparate outcomes, Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program found that Black incarcerees received more severe charges, harsher sentences and less favorable outcomes than their white counterparts. They looked at more than a million cases, from the initial charges through the conviction and sentencing, and discovered disparities that could not be explained by logic or reason.
The Washington Post: Calls to declare racism a public health crisis grow louder amid pandemic, police brutality
The Fayetteville, Arkansas, city council passe a resolution that declared racism a public health emergency in the town of 88,000, which is nearly 80 percent White. The vote added Fayetteville to a list of more than 50 American municipalities plus Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, that have passed legislation or made a formal declaration in the past year that racism is a public health crisis. The push to highlight racism as a public health threat, one that shortens lives and reduces quality of life in a manner similar to smoking or obesity, gained even more momentum in the summer. The coronavirus pandemic and police brutality have emerged in recent months as inescapable crises that have killed non-White people at disproportionately higher rates.
COVID-19 Prevention Policies and Adherence
Prescott eNews: The CDC’s Role in the Urgent Health Crisis in Jails, Prisons and Detention Centers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revised COVID-19 guidance — that all asymptomatic people who have been in contact with infected individuals need not get tested — has alarmed medical experts. Given the CDC’s estimate that 40 percent of infections are among asymptomatic individuals, the politics of managing case counts may be trumping the interruption of transmission of the novel coronavirus in all settings. In an April letter, more than 500 medical experts sought to correct another shortcoming in the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance: the failure to recommend the depopulation of prisons, jails and immigration detention centers. Despite longstanding scientific knowledge that prisons and jails are tinderboxes for contagion and criminological evidence that many incarcerated people in the United States can be safely released, the CDC has not recommended depopulating correctional facilities to reduce the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic inside these facilities and its transmission into the larger community. Links to the CDC guidance and the letter from the medical experts can be found on COCHS website.
The Queens Daily Eagle: Rikers guards ditch masks on duty despite COVID impact
Though COVID-19 has surged inside the close confines of New York City jails, correction officers continue to flout safety protocols and ditch their masks while on duty, according to Legal Aid attorneys concerned about a second wave of the illness. At least 1,427 Department of Correction staff members have been stricken with COVID-19 and eight have died, according to city data. More than 260 currently incarcerated individuals have tested positive for the illness as of Sept. 4, the Board of Correction reported. Attorneys in August compiled more than a dozen examples of maskless officers staffing the buses that shuttle visitors to Rikers Island, working the island security checkpoint, patrolling the various jails and appearing inside small booths for client video conferences.
COVID-19 Maps and Statistical Methodologies
The Register-Herald: Harvard experts say state map is flawed
The map developed by West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources looks similar to the Harvard map, lending a veneer of academic rigor to the state’s school reopening plans. But they are never the same. West Virginia officials have relied on outdated data, raised the cutoff that determines each county’s risk level and altered the methodology for determining the total number of cases. Throughout August, the case numbers in Fayette County reported by the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources had lagged behind the numbers published by Harvard and The New York Times. According to Harvard, the county had moved deep into the red and had nearly five times more cases than the numbers reported by West Virginia. The reason: the Mount Olive Correctional Complex. The state prison in Fayette County had reported an outbreak. Nearly 14 percent of the prison’s inmates came down with the virus. But prisoners and nursing home residents are not included in the West Virginia metric – and until Aug. 17, staff members at those institutions had been counted only as “half” a case – “because these individuals are not in the community,” according to a press release from DHHR.
COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections
The Hill: COVID-19 demonstrates why we must end mass incarceration
In an op-ed, David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, writes: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the cruelty and misery associated with mass incarceration into sharp relief. Correctional facilities account for 90 percent of the nation’s top COVID-19 hotspots, resulting in more than 121,000 confirmed cases among incarcerated people, and more than 1,000 recorded deaths. These facilities aren’t just serving as vectors of community spread for the disease. They are putting the lives of countless incarcerated people, corrections officers and community members at unnecessary risk.
Capital Journal: 110 COVID cases at Women's Prison in Pierre, state health officials say
A new cluster of 110 COVID-19 infections has been identified at the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre. South Dakota Department of Health officials on Thursday announced there were 105 total cases among inmates, three of which are recovered, at the prison during their regular COVID-19 news conference. The 105 cases occurred in the Pierre Community Work Center, according to a paragraph on the Department of Corrections’ website, updated Thursday at 9:19 a.m. Five staff members at the work center also tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 110.
Tahlequa Daily Press: Oklahoma Watch: Prison Infections Push Rural Towns Into Weekly Coronavirus Hotspots
Coronavirus infections at prisons in Vinita and McAlester pushed those areas into the top hotspots of the week in Oklahoma. The latest prison hotspots are at the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita, with 295 cases, and Jackie Brannon Correctional Center in McAlester, which had 114 cases on Friday. On Friday, the Department of Corrections said it would deploy “rapid response teams” to prison hotspots. The prison system has had five inmate deaths related to COVID-19. At least two staff members have died from COVID-19, The Frontier reported Friday.
Star Gazette: COVID-19 outbreak at Chemung County Jail linked to Horseheads church
Several inmates and staff members at the Chemung County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, and health officials have traced the outbreak to a cluster of cases linked to a Horseheads church. The Chemung County Health Department received a positive COVID-19 test result for an employee of the Chemung County Jail who is also a member of the Lighthouse Baptist Church. Since five cases of COVID-19 were traced to Lighthouse Baptist Church in early September, dozens more cases linked to the church have been identified across at least six counties, including Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga.
Chattanooga Times Free Press: How the Chattooga County Jail dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak
Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader noticed things starting to take a turn for the worse around July 20. At the time, the county, with an estimated 25,000 people, had only seen 96 cases of the coronavirus. COVID-19 had largely been avoided in the small mill community, and area businesses appeared to settle in to the new normal. But around July 20, a Monday, one of Schrader's deputies working at the jail expressed feeling a little under the weather. But one rapidly turned into three. When the outbreak was at its worst, the jail's contracted inmate medical provider — ConnectHealth — said the inmates would not be tested unless they started to show symptoms. Across town, public buildings were being closed after employees tested positive. Three judges tested positive, including Probate Judge Jon Payne — who eventually died due to complications with the virus.
COVID-19 Preventive Release
Science: Pandemic inspires new push to shrink jails and prisons
Even before COVID-19 began to sweep through U.S. correctional facilities, Michael Daniels saw the storm coming. As the director of justice policy and programs for Franklin county in Ohio, Daniels knew the county’s two jails, with about 1950 inmates, wouldn’t allow for social distancing to control the coronavirus’ spread. So, back in March, he asked his team: How could they get as many people as possible out of there quickly? By now 120,000 COVID-19 cases and 1000 deaths have been documented among people incarcerated in U.S. prisons alone. As cases surged, public health experts amplified a long-standing, unfulfilled demand of criminal justice reform advocates: Lock fewer people up. Because of the virus, such decarceration efforts suddenly made speedy progress. There’s no evidence so far that pandemic-inspired releases have raised crime rates. A July analysis of 29 U.S. locations by the American Civil Liberties Union found no relationship between reductions in jail populations and crime trends between March and May.
COVID-19 Mental Health and Incarceration
Public Source: ‘It almost broke me.’ How the pandemic is straining mental health at Allegheny County Jail.
No personal visitors, hardly any time for inmates outside of their cells and chronic vacancies in mental health and health staff raise concerns that the mental health of Allegheny County Jail [ACJ] inmates is deteriorating, according to inmates recently incarcerated there, family members of current inmates, advocates and current and former ACJ staff. Jodi Lynch, a former ACJ nurse practitioner who left the position in August, said inmate recreation time had been cut drastically since the pandemic began. The restrictions are an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 throughout the jail population. Warden Orlando Harper denied claims that inmates are not getting recreation time every day. Current and former ACJ staff disagreed with the warden. One current staff member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of consequences at work, said the jail’s policy is indeed to allow each inmate an hour of recreation time each day, but it doesn’t always pan out in practice.
The Los Angeles Daily News: LA County picks judge to lead ‘care first, jails last’ initiative
Los Angeles County officials announced Monday, Sept. 14, that they have selected a judge to lead a “care first, jails last” initiative and implement a broad set of alternatives to incarceration. Songhai Armstead, identified by the county CEO’s office as an innovator and longtime advocate for the underserved, will head the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, coordinating among multiple departments and community activists and service providers. Armstead is scheduled to retire from the Superior Court bench to take her new post later this month. Armstead was appointed to the Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 and is said to have been instrumental in creating innovative programs that assist justice-involved veterans, homeless people and those with mental health and substance abuse disorders.
The Los Angeles Daily News: Facing sheriff’s scorn, LA County leaders seek to reduce jail population
Efforts to reduce L.A. County’s inmate totals took a step forward on Tuesday, Sept. 15, as the Board of Supervisors voted to create a Jail Population Council. The move met with immediate pushback from Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who said it was his office’s job to control that population — and that it has fallen as low as it can possible go without putting dangerous felons back on the street. In July, despite major pushback from Villanueva, the board green-lit a proposed charter amendment that will ask voters in November whether the county should reserve tens of millions of dollars each year for community investment in programs such as treatment, affordable housing and criminal-justice diversion.
Honolulu Civil Beat: OCCC Is A 21st-Century Poorhouse And Asylum. We Must Do Better
In an essay for the Honolulu Civil Beat, Robert Merce, vice-chair of the House Concurrent Resolution 85 Task Force on Prison Reform in Hawai'i writes: The Oahu Community Correctional Center, better known as “O Triple C,” is a grim place. From the street you can see foreboding gray guard towers and long spirals of concertina wire sitting atop the jail’s chain-link fence, but these only hint at what’s inside. OCCC is a terrible place for the mentally ill. It is noisy, overcrowded, violent and chaotic. Mentally ill prisoners are without their usual medication and support network, and they do not receive adequate care or treatment. People with mental illness do not belong in jails. They need treatment and permanent supportive housing that leads to stability, inclusion and recovery.
VT Digger: Sarah George ends requests for cash bail, aiming to make justice system more fair
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George will no longer request cash bail in the pretrial cases she oversees, in an effort to further equalize a justice system that she believes punishes the poor and benefits the rich. George took up the practice in January, but it received little notice until she issued a press release about it this week. She said it’s not fair that some people are in jail only because they can’t afford to post bail. Others who are wealthier get to walk free while awaiting trial.
AP: Lawsuit: Private jail company (LaSalle Corrections) caused Texas woman’s death
The family of a woman who died after being held in an East Texas jail last year filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the company that runs the facility, claiming its staff neglected her care and ignored her pleas for help as her health deteriorated and she went blind. Holly Barlow-Austin’s husband and mother filed the lawsuit in federal court against Bowie County, LaSalle Corrections, and several of the company’s employees at the jail in Texarkana. They say LaSalle, which runs jails and immigration detention facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia, violated Barlow-Austin’s rights and caused her death. LaSalle also operates the Georgia immigration detention facility where a nurse on Monday claimed that staff had performed questionable hysterectomies. A top U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement medical official has “vehemently” disputed these claim.
ABC 15 Arizona: Prison employee claims they’re forced to work even if they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19
An employee at Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison run by CoreCivic, is speaking out about insufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff, and a lack of COVID-19 safety precautions. Saguaro is contracted to house inmates from Idaho, Nevada, Hawaii, and Kansas. According to a spokesperson for CoreCivic, the private company running Saguaro Correctional Center, “Our employees’ health and well-being is a top priority". But for the employee claims only those inside the prison know what’s really going on. The whistleblower says Saguaro keeps admitting new inmates with COVID-19 every week and that some arrive without masks, putting staff at risk during their transport.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Prison’s virus outbreak brings fear to rural area
For months, CoreCivic, the largest private prison corporation in the nation, had assured state and federal authorities it had everything under control. On July 26, it reported five confirmed cases among the federal inmates at its Cibola facility, a 1,129-bed prison set in the village of Milan, just outside of Grants. The following day, the number jumped to 175 — New Mexico’s largest single-day jump of COVID-19 cases. In separate interviews with these inmates and two other men, an account emerged of an official response from CoreCivic that was both punitive and ineffective at preventing the spread of infection.New Mexico’s congressional delegation, made up of U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland, Ben Ray Luján and Xochitl Torres Small, expressed in an inquiry Aug. 14 concerns about the prison’s handling of COVID-19.
Georgia Recorder: Health officials blame prison for COVID outbreak in rural SE Georgia
An error in COVID-19 data reporting has obscured an outbreak in a Georgia prison and in the community surrounding it. The count of coronavirus cases in rural Wheeler County nearly doubled last week when CoreCivic, the Tennessee-based, publicly traded company that runs the Wheeler Correctional Facility, reported 145 cases to the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Nancy Nydam, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health. The news comes as the value of a share in CoreCivic has stayed stubbornly stuck at a little over $9, about half its high in 2019, running against the trend of a generally recovering stock market. Meanwhile, public health workers in the South Central Health District said the cases at large in Wheeler County start at CoreCivic’s prison.