Weekly Update: February 16, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: February 16, 2021

Medicaid Reentry Act

NAMI: Sign On Letter - Medicaid Reentry Act
NAMI would like to invite your organization to sign on to the attached letter of support, thanking Senators Baldwin and Braun, and Representatives Tonko and Turner, for introducing the bill. For a quick recap, the Medicaid Re-Entry Act would allow states to reinstate and use Medicaid to cover services for people who are incarcerated 30 days prior to their release.

The Office of Congressman Paul D. Tonko: Tonko-Baldwin Medicaid Reentry Act Added to E&C Reconciliation
Congressman Paul D. Tonko heralded news that his bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act has been incorporated into the House Committee on Energy & Commerce budget reconciliation proposal. This legislation empowers states to restore access to addiction treatment through Medicaid for incarcerated individuals up to 30 days before their release and is sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in the Senate with lead co-sponsors Representatives Mike Turner (R-OH), David Trone (D-MD) and David McKinley (R-WV) and Senator Mike Braun (R-IN). The bill responds in part to alarming data that show individuals released from incarceration are 129 times more likely to die of a drug overdose during the first two weeks after release.

COVID-19 Data Transparency in Corrections

From the Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren: Warren, Murray, Booker, Pressley, Garcia, Colleagues Will Reintroduce COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act
United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) will reintroduce of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, bicameral legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. At the federal level, the BOP posts daily COVID-19 updates on its website but excludes important information, such as hospitalization numbers, and does not disaggregate data based on demographic categories

COVID-19 Vaccine in Corrections Controversies

The New Yorker: Andrew Cuomo’s Refusal to Vaccinate Inmates Is Indefensible
A week ago, five legal-aid groups sued Cuomo and the state health commissioner, Howard Zucker, for withholding vaccine eligibility from the more than thirty thousand people currently incarcerated in New York’s prisons and jails. The lawsuit argues that refusing to vaccinate incarcerated people puts lives in danger, violates public-health guidelines, raises civil-rights issues, and undercuts the very equity that Cuomo says he’s committed to achieving.

Chicago Tribune: Illinois will soon begin vaccinating prisoners against COVID-19. Some politicians question state’s priorities.
After a deadly second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Illinois prisons sickened thousands of workers and inmates, the state will begin vaccinating both groups in the coming week — a plan that drew praise from advocates but provoked the ire of some lawmakers who argue criminals should not be prioritized. To date, an estimated 10,500 inmates and 4,000 workers have tested positive. For both staff and inmates, that means about 1 in 3 was infected, according to state statistics.

COVID-19 and Racial Disparities

North Carolina Health News: Prisons contribute to racial imbalance in COVID-19 impact in NC
Because inmates and prison staff are much more likely to be Black than North Carolina’s population as a whole, the outbreaks happening behind prison walls are disproportionately harming Black people and Black communities in North Carolina. What’s happening in North Carolina follows the national trend, according to Aaron Littman, deputy director of the COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project at UCLA School of Law. The factors that cause greater infection rates among Black communities create a cyclical process for infection, and prisons act as both incubator and distribution center for the disease, according to multiple experts in the law, public health and sociology.

COVID-19 Decarceration

The Chicago Tribune: Despite federal and state guidance to reduce jail populations, few inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes have been released early
In March and April, former Attorney General William Barr recommended that federal inmates who were convicted of nonviolent crimes, are immunocompromised and don’t pose a risk to society should be prioritized for home confinement. But less than 14% of the more than 150,000 federal inmates, the majority of whom were convicted of nonviolent crimes have been released to home confinement since last spring, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Detroit Free Press: Highly contagious COVID-19 strain found at Michigan prison
Prisoners and staff at a state correctional facility in west Michigan are now being tested daily for the coronavirus after the detection of the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant. The Michigan Department of Corrections said in a notice sent to prisoners and staff this week that a case of the B.1.1.7 variant was confirmed Monday at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia. The variant, which first appeared in the United Kingdom in September, spreads more easily than other previously identified strains.

The Cap Times: COVID-19 infects half of Wisconsin inmates, five times the overall state rate
The coronavirus has run rampant across Wisconsin’s state prison system, infecting at least 2,153 staff members at adult institutions who self-reported test results and 10,786 inmates throughout the pandemic — more than half of the current population. The state has detected infections among inmates at a rate more than five times higher than in the general population.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On People with Behavioral Health Issues

M Live: ‘There is no way I’m getting out of here?’ Kalamazoo County inmate asked parents before suicide
The family of a 29-year-old man who died by suicide in the Kalamazoo County Jail on Dec. 17 continues to search for answers. An investigation by the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office found that Lovell killed himself in his jail cell. Released documents state there were multiple situations that occurred in the two hours leading up to Lovell’s death “which caused officers to be distracted or pulled them from their normal day to day operations in the medical wing and pods.”

The San Diego Union Tribune: We cannot become numb to San Diego jail deaths; we have to demand better
In November 2019, Elisa Serna — who was already suffering from heroin withdrawal, pneumonia and dehydration — suffered a seizure while in Sheriff’s custody, hit her head against the wall of her jail cell and collapsed to the floor unconscious, according to an independent investigation. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, along with many law enforcement agencies throughout this country, has a serious and well-documented problem when it comes to caring for the people in its custody. Meanwhile, the grim numbers climbed; last year, at least 12 more people died in county custody.

KDRV: Inadequate medical and mental health care contributed to 2020 deaths in Oregon jails
Inadequate medical and mental health care, among other factors, contributed to the deaths of ten inmates at eight local jail facilities throughout Oregon over the course of 2020, according to an investigative report by Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) released on Monday. According to the DRO report, nine out of the ten inmates who died had a disability. Five had documented mental health conditions, and six of them died by suicide. Eight had documented substance use disorder, and six of those were in custody on drug-related charges. At least four were homeless, or had a history of housing insecurity.

Oklahoma Watch: Oklahoma’s Jail Mortality Rate Ranks Second in Nation
Deaths in Oklahoma’s largest county jails have trended upward over the past decade, an indication that some inmates aren’t receiving adequate medical and mental health care. According to a Reuters News investigation published last October, 148 inmates housed in Oklahoma’s 11 largest county jails died from 2009 through 2019.

Mental Health Initiatives in Corrections

Law360: Colo. Counties Unite To Keep Mentally Ill Out Of Jail
Law enforcement officials in counties across the state of Colorado are working to keep mentally ill people out of their jails and prisons by creating new programs to detect mental health problems before these individuals enter the criminal justice system. One of the programs that Colorado counties have implemented is a co-responder program in which a trained mental health specialist answers crisis calls with sheriffs and deputies.

Rome News-Tribune: Construction of SPLOST-funded mental health facilities at the Floyd County Jail underway
The second phase of the Floyd County (GA) Jail medical unit has a very specific focus in mind: targeting the mental health of inmates and connecting them to treatment. Jail Administrator Maj. Allen Pledger said they are working with National Alliance on Mental Illness President Bonnie Moore on getting counselors to come in and work with people in need of those services while they’re being held at the jail.

District Attorneys and Justice Reform

The Washington Post: How progressive district attorneys are leading the charge to fix our broken justice system
In recent years, municipal leaders in the criminal justice system — particularly district attorneys — have led a growing reform movement. Their successes show that progressives who want to keep converting grass-roots protest energy into policy changes should focus on the local level. Organizations like the Law Enforcement Action Partnership — a group of officials that includes judges, correctional agents and police officers — are helping drive this movement as well.

Cannabis Decriminalization and The Opioid Epidemic

Yale Insights: Can Legalizing Cannabis Curb Deaths from Opioids?
A new study from Yale SOM’s Balázs Kovács and Greta Hsu of the University of California Davis uses new data to uncover a striking association: the more legal cannabis dispensaries there are in a given county, the fewer opioid overdoses. Once legalized, does cannabis partially displace opioids among drug users?

The BMJ: Association between county level cannabis dispensary counts and opioid related mortality rates in the United States: panel data study
Higher medical and recreational storefront dispensary counts are associated with reduced opioid related death rates, particularly deaths associated with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. While the associations documented cannot be assumed to be causal, they suggest a potential association between increased prevalence of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid related mortality rates. This study highlights the importance of considering the complex supply side of related drug markets and how this shapes opioid use and misuse.

Incarceration and Crime

Equal Justice Initiative: Study Finds Increased Incarceration Has Marginal-to-Zero Impact on Crime
More incarceration will not make us safer, a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice concludes, because increased incarceration rates have no demonstrated effect on violent crime and in some instances may increase crime. Research shows that any crime reduction benefits from increased incarceration apply only to property crimes. Higher incarceration rates are not associated with lower violent crime rates, because expanding incarceration primarily means that more people convicted of nonviolent, “marginal” offenses (like drug offenses and low-level property offenses) and “infrequent” offenses are imprisoned.

Data Analysis, Criminal Justice, and Medicaid

Academy Health: Minnesota Offers Lessons on Advancing Health Justice Using Medicaid Data
This report provides information on the importance of investing in data analysis to advance health justice in Medicaid populations. It further highlights the importance of partnering with communities most impacted by injustices that cause inequities in health outcomes. State Medicaid programs play an essential role in providing healthcare coverage to millions of Americans who experience institutional and interpersonal discrimination and bias. COVID-19 has made it clear that Medicaid programs need data, new tools, methodologies, and strategies to identify and reduce preventable morbidity and mortality rates in under-resourced communities.

Correctional Officers and Inmates

The Washington Post: Jail’s ‘segregation order’ allowed only White officers to guard Derek Chauvin after George Floyd’s death, lawsuit alleges
Eight minority correctional officers at a Minnesota county jail have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit alleging only White employees were allowed to guard or interact with Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd's death, while he was held at the facility last summer. The lawsuit, filed in Minnesota district court on Tuesday, alleges a top official at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul ordered employees of color to segregate on a separate floor away from Chauvin when he turned himself in on murder charges in May.

Corrections 1: How 'us against them' causes corrections fatigue
Correctional workers usually enter a workplace dominated by an “us against them” mentality in relation to staff’s relationship to offenders. Staff are asked to control and gain the compliance of individuals who are automatically viewed as their enemy, as liars, “con artist” manipulators and a threat to their lives. In order to survive such an environment and not be assaulted or deceived, staff may adopt an adversarial, confrontational posture with those they manage, and erect high psychological walls to avoid getting manipulated. Sooner or later, staff may lose sight of the humanity of the individuals in front of them. Disrespect of the offenders is not far behind. Offender communication is dismissed as most likely fabrication or deception.

Jail Conditions in California

Public Policy Institute of California: California’s County Jails
An overview of California jails that includes: a description of COVID-19's impact on local jails, sentence reduction, pre-pandemic demographics and decreasing populations, aging facilities and reassessing the need for new facilities in light of changes caused by both the pandemic and Proposition 47.

Private Prisons

KRQE: Biden’s order ending deals with private prisons not tough enough, migrant advocate says
The Justice Department says it will not be renewing existing contracts with private prison corporations following an executive order signed by President Biden late last month. But Biden’s order exempts federal agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which sends many migrants to private facilities, including the Otay Mesa Detention Center in South San Diego. Tennessee-based CoreCivic operates the facility. “The executive order itself will only affect a small percentage of the overall population of people incarcerated, it will definitely not affect people being held for immigration purposes," said Pedro Rios with the American Friends Service Committee.

CBS 42: Regions Bank to cut ties with CoreCivic by 2023 after conversations with BLM, student groups
Regions Bank has decided to cut its credit services ties with CoreCivic after activist groups in Alabama brought up some of the company’s past track record. A spokesperson with Regions Bank says they will not renew their relationship with them as their contract ends in 2023. Activists groups like Alabama Students Against Prisons, Black Lives Matter and several others spoke to representatives with Regions on their relationship with CoreCivic. Many in those groups would tout this as a step in the right direction.

Liberation: $3 billion to spare? Alabama’s governor spends on prisons
Alabama is making one of the largest public expenditures in the state’s history—on building new prisons. On Feb 1, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed lease deals with one of the country’s largest private prison companies, CoreCivic. The company will be building two new prison facilities in Alabama’s Escambia and Elmore counties. The total cost for the three prisons is estimated to be around $3 billion dollars that will be paid for by the public.