Weekly Update: January 18, 2022

COCHS Weekly Update: January 18, 2022

Highlighted Stories

Health Affairs: Making Addiction Treatment More Realistic And Pragmatic: The Perfect Should Not Be The Enemy Of The Good
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), writes: Last year saw drug overdose deaths in the U.S. surpass an unthinkable milestone: 100,000 deaths in a year. This is the highest number of drug overdoses in our country’s history, and the numbers are climbing every month. The magnitude of this crisis demands out-of-the-box thinking and willingness to jettison old, unhelpful, and unsupported assumptions about what treatment and recovery need to look like. Among them is the traditional view that abstinence is the sole aim and only valid outcome of addiction treatment.

Health Affairs: Foundations Help Improve Health In Prison And Jail And After Release
Among the brief’s key points are that people reentering communities after being incarcerated “are sicker than the general population.” They have “disproportionate rates” of mental illness, “suicide, substance use disorders, disabilities,” and certain physical conditions. Also, those reentering communities face health care access impediments and often experience “homelessness, unemployment, and a lack of social and family support,” the authors note.

The Crime Report: Why Are Prisons Banning Books by Black Authors?
A recent rejection from South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in Clifton, Tenn. of the Malcolm X biography by Walter Dean Myers, “Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary,” a Scholastic biography intended for grades 7-12, highlights a widespread pattern of censorship by prisons that selectively and intentionally targets books by Black authors. Meanwhile, 2020 researchers found that a Wisconsin committee allowed “Mein Kampf” into prisons after review but banned publications about the Black Panthers because it considered them gang-related material.

NPR: COVID was again the leading cause of death among U.S. law enforcement in 2021
Last year was the deadliest for active-duty law enforcement in nearly a century, with COVID-19 identified as the leading cause of death for the second year in a row. Some 458 local, state, tribal and federal officers died in the line of duty in 2021, according to a preliminary report from the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum (NLEOMF). That makes an increase of 55% from the previous year's tally of 295 and the highest total number since 1930.

Marshall Project: People in the Scandal-Plagued Federal Prison System Reveal What They Need in a New Director
After less than two years on the job, the embattled director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Michael Carvajal, abruptly announced his retirement last week — a move that sparked celebration from prisoners and staff alike. To many, Carvajal’s departure signals a chance to transform the troubled agency — but whether that happens will depend on who replaces him. The role doesn’t require Senate confirmation, so now officials and policymakers in Washington are grappling with the question of who they want to run the nation’s biggest prison system.

COVID-19 Surge in Corrections

Marin Independent Journal: California Voice: Prison worker COVID cases skyrocket as Newsom opposes vaccine mandate
As Gov. Gavin Newsom sides with the politically powerful prison guards’ union in its fight against coronavirus vaccination mandates, Department of Corrections workers have been contracting COVID-19 at more than twice the soaring rate of the state’s general population. Inmates are paying the price. From Thursday to Monday, the number of reported infected prisoners doubled.

Los Angeles Times: More than 3,800 California prison staffers have coronavirus amid massive surge this month
California’s prisons have seen a huge surge in the number of employees testing positive for the coronavirus, with 3,845 active infections Monday, a 212% increase so far this month. In the last two weeks there have been 3,912 new coronavirus cases among state employees working inside California’s prisons, coinciding with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant throughout the state’s population.

Tampa Bay Times: Pinellas jail in lockdown to quell coronavirus spread
The Pinellas County jail was in lockdown this week to quell the latest wave of coronavirus cases among those incarcerated there. Out of the roughly 2,950 people in jail Friday, 74 were positive for the virus, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Lockdown means there is no movement in the jail unless someone is being released. A likely culprit is the omicron variant.

KAKE: Kansas Department of Corrections suspends in-person visitation at all facilities
The Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) will suspend in-person visitation at all juvenile and adult correction facilities beginning January 14. In a statement by the Kansas Department of Corrections, staffing issues related to COVID-19 is the reason for the suspension.

WAND: State prison system pauses county jail intakes due to COVID-19
Because of COVID-19 outbreaks at correctional facilities, the Illinois Department of Corrections has paused intakes from county jails. County sheriffs were notified Tuesday. In order to safely quarantine and isolate incarcerated individuals who were exposed to COVID-19 or have tested positive, IDOC is utilizing space normally reserved for new admissions.

Oklahoma Watch: While Active Cases Remain Low, Omicron Threat Looms in Oklahoma Prisons
The highly contagious Omicron variant has arrived in Oklahoma, causing COVID-19 case numbers to surge and renewing concerns that hospitals will become overwhelmed. State prisons, where many of the incarcerated live in dormitory-style housing units, were hit especially hard with infections and deaths during previous waves of the virus.

VT Digger: 47 new Covid cases discovered at St. Johnsbury prison complex
The number of Covid-19 cases among incarcerated people in Vermont tripled in a single day, according to the Department of Corrections. In total, 57 incarcerated individuals were considered positive for Covid across five state facilities.

COVID-19 Reporting in Corrections

Sacramento Bee: Sacramento sheriff is hiding information about jail COVID outbreaks from the public
Although California’s Board of State and Community Corrections has requested that sheriffs and probation departments share COVID data, their responses are often incomplete or erroneous. Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones’ office doesn’t disclose COVID cases, testing or vaccination rates among staff members at the Main Jail or the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center despite a statewide California Department of Public Health order requiring all corrections staff to be vaccinated or tested weekly. Our public records requests for this data have either been ignored or declined.

COVID-19 Early Release

gothamist: NJ Will Resume Releasing Prisoners Early Due To COVID After Murphy Declares Emergency
New Jersey prisoners within a year of their release dates will once again be able to get out early due to the pandemic, according to the governor’s office. Governor Phil Murphy’s re-declaration of a public health emergency this week also reactivated the state’s early release law that freed more than 5,300 people from prison early. The early releases stopped last October after Murphy ended the public health emergency.

ABC 10: 203 inmates being released from Sacramento jails due to COVID outbreak
More than 200 inmates are expected to be released from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) and the Sacramento County Main Jail due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Sacramento County Public Health confirmed the outbreak Thursday afternoon. There are 76 positive cases at the jail and 48 at the RCCC. Health staff are trying to pinpoint the source and mitigate the spread.

Mercury News: Santa Clara County: Amnesty granted to people sentenced to work program halted by COVID-19
More than 1,600 people who were sentenced to a Santa Clara County sheriff’s weekend work program in the first year of the pandemic, but were unable to fulfill their sentences because the program was suspended for safety reasons, have been cleared of their obligations in an act of amnesty by the court.

Injustice Watch: Where is the urgency to decarcerate the Cook County Jail?
It was common knowledge that a winter surge in cases was coming, and yet Cook County Jail is still overcrowded, social distancing remains impossible, and its health care system is terribly inadequate. Yet county officials continue to fail to do the one thing that health experts agree would save lives: reduce the number of people incarcerated.

COVID-19 Voices of Families & Friends

ABC: "Why won't you help me?": Tennessee families concerned with lack of inmate healthcare
Prison populations across the country have been hit hard by this pandemic. This is especially true in Tennessee where inmates continue to die as healthcare costs continue rising. "Why won't you help me? We needed your help," says Theresa Jordan, a Chattanooga mother pleading for help. Jordan's son has been an inmate at Silverdale for 2 years and he suffers from asthma and bipolar schizophrenia.

Rikers Island

New York Times: Jail Unions Gain a Powerful Supporter: The New Mayor
Flanked by correctional union officer representatives last month, Mr. Adams announced that he would reinstate solitary confinement as a tool for managing detainees, a policy the correction officers’ union had pushed in the face of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to eliminate it. Two weeks ago, on the same day, Louis A. Molina, Mr. Adams’s choice to replace Mr. Schiraldi, rolled back restrictions on the department’s generous sick leave policy and fired the department’s top internal investigator, whose aggressive investigations into officers’ use of force had also drawn the unions’ ire.

New York Times: A Look Inside Rikers: ‘Fight Night’ and Gang Rule, Captured on Video
The men had gotten along on Rikers Island, had even been friendly, but now they were face to face inside a jail cell — and a gang leader had just ordered them to fight. In an unusual decision last month, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ordered the release of one of the men who had been forced to participate in the “fight night” because, she said, the Department of Correction had failed to protect him. The department’s inability to manage the jail system as the man awaited trial on robbery charges, Justice April Newbauer said, “was tantamount to deliberate indifference.”

New York Times: Hundreds at Rikers Protest Conditions, Citing Covid and the Cold
About 200 detainees at Rikers Island continued a protest Tuesday, unusual in its size and organization, against continuing poor conditions at the troubled complex, as frustrations mounted over a Covid-19-imposed quarantine. The detainees, who began their protest Saturday, are refusing meals provided by the Department of Correction, though they are getting food from the commissary, according to a department official.

Ivermectin Treatment in Corrections

AP: 4 Arkansas inmates sue jail, doctor for receiving ivermectin
Four inmates at a northwest Arkansas jail sued the facility and its doctor Thursday after they said were unknowingly prescribed ivermectin to treat COVID-19 despite health officials’ warnings that the anti-parasitic drug shouldn’t be used for that purpose. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the detainees against the Washington County jail, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder and Dr. Robert Karas.

Seniors In Corrections

The Post Star: Aging prison population increasing health care costs
Though New York’s prison population has been on the decline, the state comptroller is urging policymakers to continue reducing that number and to be aware that a growing percentage of older inmates is leading to substantially higher health care costs. A group advocating for the release of older people said that decades of “extreme sentencing” and racial bias in parole determinations means that minorities are more likely to “continue to age without dignity, get sick, and die in prison regardless of their transformation and potential benefits to the outside community.”


Dayton Daily News: Audit: Ohio Medicaid improperly paid $118.5M for prisoners, dead people
Ohio Medicaid overpaid managed care organizations more than $118.5 million in duplicate payments and for the managed care of prison inmates and deceased residents, according to a report released Thursday by the Auditor of State. $101 million in payments for 29,412 adults incarcerated in Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facilities and not eligible for Medicaid. Many of the improper payments identified by the auditor were driven by defects and design issues in Ohio Medicaid’s eligibility system, Ohio Benefits, they said.

Health Payer Intelligence: How Medicaid Enrollment Assistance Supports Incarcerated Persons
Prerelease Medicaid enrollment assistance for incarcerated individuals who have substance use disorders can help improve outpatient utilization after release. The researchers studied over 16,300 adults who had been in the state justice system for at least 31 days and who had a history of substance use. Based on those parameters, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections yielded data on more than 18,200 eligible releases from April 2014 through the end of December 2016.

Body Cameras

New York Times: In a First, Ohio Moves to Put Body Cameras on Guards in Every Prison
Thousands of Ohio prison guards will begin wearing body cameras for the first time this year, bringing more transparency inside prison walls at a time when the coronavirus pandemic and guard shortages are making many prisons more dangerous. The plan to roll out body cameras follows the death in January of last year of Michael A. McDaniel, a 55-year-old prisoner who collapsed and died after guards pushed him to the ground several times following a fight outside of his cell. A coroner ruled that his death was a homicide.

US Supreme Court

New York Times: Supreme Court Weighs Jailed Immigrants’ Rights to Bail Hearings
The Supreme Court heard arguments over whether immigrants detained for long periods while they are fighting deportation are entitled to hearings to decide whether they may be released on bond as their cases move forward. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said allowing people to seek release as their cases work their way through the legal system is a bedrock principle with deep historical roots.


PEW: How One Corrections Facility Is Linking Individuals to Addiction Treatment
At Somerset County Jail in New Jersey has instituted a program that delivers medication for opioid use disorder (OUD) for jail residents and for people re-entering their community post-release. Such programs are a key component of health care for individuals in the criminal legal system, with 65% of this population estimated to have a substance use disorder (SUD)—but the vast majority of these facilities don’t offer medication treatment.

Closing Prisons

New York Times: ‘Nothing Will Be the Same’: A Prison Town Weighs a Future Without a Prison
In Susanville, at the edge of a valley hemmed in by the Sierra Nevada in remote northeast California, there are nearly as many people living inside the walls of the town’s two state prisons, roughly 7,000 people, as outside. About half of the adults work at the prisons — the soon-to-be shuttered minimal security California Correctional Center and a maximum security facility, High Desert, which will remain open.

Data & Statistics

Prison Policy Initiative: The changes in prisons, jails, probation, and parole in the first year of the pandemic
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has released a lot of new data over the past few weeks that help us finally see — both nationally and state-by-state — how policy choices made in the first year of the pandemic impacted correctional populations. Unsurprisingly, the numbers document the tragedy of thousands of lives lost behind bars, and evidence of some of the policy decisions that contributed to the death toll.

Grant Makers in Health: Federal Action Is Needed to Improve Race and Ethnicity Data in Health Programs
Achieving health equity begins with an ability to identify health disparities and their causes. To do that, we must have complete and accurate data on race, ethnicity, and other drivers of health. For far too long, large percentages of race and ethnicity data have been missing from federal and state health programs, with little progress towards closing the gaps. To identify the barriers and opportunities, Grantmakers In Health, in collaboration with the National Committee for Quality Assurance, interviewed a variety of stakeholders across the country, representing all levels of the health system.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Valdosta Daily Times: Ga. bills focus on inmate mental health
Democrat Rep. Sandra Scott filed three bills that aim to address inmate mental health challenges. An estimated 30 inmates died by suicide in 2020. H.B. 853 would allow anyone eligible for public mental health services due to a previous diagnosis for a sentence that includes mental health treatment. The bill would allow the court to order defendants to serve all or part of their sentences in a mental health treatment facility.

Traverse City Record Eagle: Jail, road patrol officers point to the need for mental health services
It has been a year since a contract with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health to provide services for people held at the Grand Traverse County jail was not renewed. The $163,000 contract paid for two full time employees at the jail — a behavioral health specialist and a peer support specialist, but a study commissioned by the jail more than a year ago found the services were not reaching enough inmates. An RFP was put out in December and proposals from Wellpath and from Advanced Correctional Healthcare, an Illinois-based company, were opened Monday. Sheriff Tom Bensley has said he hopes to soon have a recommendation for the county board to approve.

Prison Contractors

Inquest: The Invisible Violence of Carceral Food
Prison food conditions in Maryland have been rapidly deteriorating since the state’s jail and prison populations exploded since the 1970s. Adapting to the thousands of people entering state bondage and the industrialization of our food system as a whole, correctional food systems generally cut costs, privatized food service to multibillion dollar corporations such as Aramar or Trinity, and substituted any semblance of real foods with ultra-processed, nutritionally bankrupt meals.

Bloomberg Law: Inmate Families Face Cash-Transfer Fees ‘Just to Stay Connected’
Families transferring funds to relatives in state prisons have no choice but to pay fees that can take more than a third of their money off the top—an expense that lingers even as the cost of sending money plummets everywhere else. The average fee to wire $20 to an incarcerated person in a state-run prison nationwide is 19% ($3.80), but ranges from 5% ($1) in some states to 37% ($7.40) in others. The three companies are JPay, Global*Tel Link, and Access Corrections.

Private Prisons

azcentral: Arizona to transfer 2,706 prisoners from state-run prison to private CoreCivic facility
The Arizona Department of Corrections awarded a contract to private prison operator CoreCivic to house prisoners at the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy. The prisoners will be moved from the state prison in Florence, which is scheduled to close. The total five-year contract is worth more than $420 million. According to budget projections from CoreCivic, the company expects to earn a profit of more than $6 million for the first year of the contract.

Daily Kos: Biden admin doesn't have to repeat past mistakes. It should release immigrants amid omicron surge
The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 while in unnecessary federal immigration detention continues to skyrocket. Per ICE data, Otay Mesa is reporting 79 confirmed cases as of Jan. 11. The facility, operated by private prison profiteer CoreCivic, has reported 744 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. In fact, two of the facilities currently with the worst numbers are also CoreCivic operated facilities, both in Arizona.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

WOODTV.com: Muskegon County signs new jail health vendor for $500K more annually
Muskegon County will pay about $2 million a year to VitalCore Health Strategies to provide medical care at the jail and its juvenile detention center — a little less than the cost of the settlement for a man who died at the jail nearly three years ago. Under the previous health care vendor, Wellpath, two inmates died in a year at the jail.

Policy Analyst Opening

COCHS Is Hiring: A Policy Analyst
Would you like to improve health care for those involved with the justice system? COCHS is looking for a policy analyst who is ready to develop policy in the interface of our health and justice systems. Candidates will have a graduate degree in public health, public administration, public policy or any other appropriate terminal degree. Work will remain remote but travel to conferences and work sites will resume at some point COVID-permitting. If interested, send a cover letter and CV/resume to info@cochs.org.