Weekly Update: February 09, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: February 09, 2021

Special Update
Office of Senator Tammy Baldwin: Baldwin, Braun, Whitehouse and Brown Lead Senate Introduction of Bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act
U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Braun (R-IN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are leading the Senate introduction of the bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act, legislation expanding access to addiction treatment and other health services for Medicaid-eligible individuals 30 days before their release from jail or prison. The bipartisan legislation is also being re-introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) and Michael Turner (R-OH-10).

Specifically, the Medicaid Reentry Act will:
  • Grant new flexibility to restart benefits for Medicaid-eligible incarcerated individuals 30 days pre-release;
  • Make it easier for states to coordinate effective addiction treatment and other health services, allowing for a warm handoff to community care and a reduced risk of overdose deaths post-release; and
  • Ensure a smooth transition back to Medicaid for those who are already eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Highlighted Stories

JAMA Network: The Triple Aim Applied to Correctional Health Systems
In this article for JAMA, Donald Berwick, Adam Beckwith, and Suhas Gonhi write: For years, policy makers have focused on improving the quality and affordability of health care, but incarcerated populations have been largely excluded from those national efforts. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the latest signal of massive deficiencies in correctional health infrastructure; as of June 2020, the COVID-19 case rate for people in prisons was more than 5 times higher than that for the general US population (3251 vs 587 per 100 000 people). This higher risk adds to the burden of racial disparities in the nation because People of Color are unjustly incarcerated at far higher rates than White individuals.

The Sacramento Bee: California issues largest COVID-19 penalty to San Quentin State Prison after deadly outbreak
California workplace safety regulators say they have hit San Quentin State Prison with by far the state’s largest pandemic-related fine against an employer yet. San Quentin has been rocked by one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. According to the Associated Press, the prison now has a more than $400,000 fine levied against it. This new fine is several times higher than any others doled out by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, commonly known as Cal/OSHA.

The San Francisco Chronicle: State report details how botched inmate transfers sparked 'public health disaster' at San Quentin
California prison officials and medical staff sparked a “public health disaster” with their botched handling of prisoner transfers to San Quentin and Corcoran state prisons last year, the state’s Office of Inspector General said in a blistering report. Prison operators also failed to contain the disaster after inmates starting falling sick from coronavirus infections. California Correctional Health Care Services pressured officials at the California Institute for Men in Chino to rush the medical screenings of 189 incarcerated people before transferring them to Corcoran State Prison and San Quentin State Prison.

Natchez The Democrat: Some see value in expanding Medicaid for prisoners
While the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Tate Reeves have rejected efforts to provide Medicaid coverage to the working poor, a proposal is making its way through the Legislature to allow chronically sick incarcerated people to be paroled to special facilities where they would be placed on Medicaid.

Forbes: Regions Bank Of Alabama Turns Its Back On CoreCivic, Announces Plan To End Relationship
Today, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a new major contract with private prison company CoreCivic, kicking off a $3B plan to construct three new prisons in the state. This weekend presented a wrench in that plan: Regions Bank, the largest bank in Alabama, announced that it plans to terminate its financing relationship with CoreCivic.

The Washington Post: After St. Louis jail unrest, inmates’ advocates allege desperate conditions while officials defend pandemic response
Some inmate advocates and attorneys said Monday that they are not surprised at a weekend uprising at the jail in St. Louis during which inmates smashed windows and set fires and a corrections officer ended up hospitalized. Advocates allege that inmates have been mistreated during the coronavirus pandemic, left in de facto solitary confinement and minded by jail staffers who do not maintain proper safety protocols. City officials, meanwhile, defended their management. ArchCity Defenders received 60 calls about issues at the facility, including concerns about inmates who have tested positive for the coronavirus not being isolated, a lack of recreational time and retribution from guards over complaints. Inmates had staged two protests previously.

COVID-19 Vaccines in Corrections

The Hill: Oregon to begin vaccinating prisoners against COVID-19 after judge's order
Oregon will begin vaccinating its inmate populations against COVID-19 after a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state's prison population should be prioritized. The ruling bumps up prisoners into phase 1a, group 2 of the vaccine rollout, giving them the same priority access as those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Previously, only correctional facility employees were included in this category.

Enid News & Eagle: State jail, prison officials don’t know when they will receive COVID-19 vaccine
While Oklahoma has administered more than 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since December, jails and prisons, which have seen some of the state’s biggest outbreaks of the disease, still are on the waiting list. Oklahoma health officials don’t know yet when jails and prisons will receive the vaccine or how many doses will be available because of the state’s uncertain supply. Jails and prisons are included in the second tier of the state’s vaccination plan, behind school teachers and staff.

Hays Post: Kan. prisons to begin giving COVID-19 shots to inmates
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration plans to begin giving COVID-19 vaccinations to Kansas prison inmates next week, ignoring a call from the Republican-controlled Legislature to postpone their inoculations so that others can get them first. Department of Corrections has not yet vaccinated any inmates but would start giving them throughout its nine facilities. The Kansas Senate was debating a resolution condemning Kelly’s decision to make inmates eligible for shots during the second phase of the state’s vaccine rollout, which launched last month.

WBEZ Chicago: Cook County Begins Vaccinating Jail Detainees, A Controversial Move Backed By Public Health Experts
Cook County health workers started vaccinating the 5,361 people locked up in the massive jail in Chicago this week. Inoculating inmates is based on the advice of public health experts, but it comes amid a national debate over whether incarcerated people should get priority as millions more wait for their shot at the COVID-19 vaccine. The jail, where close quarters makes social distancing very difficult, has been a hot spot for COVID-19 almost since the start of the pandemic. Ten jail detainees have died after testing positive for the virus, along with four correctional officers at the jail.

The Texas Tribune: Texas prisons have doled out thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses — but none have gone to prisoners, who get the virus at high rates
The Texas prison system has administered more than 5,500 doses of the coronavirus vaccine, but none have been given to inmates who qualify for the shot under the state’s current phase of the rollout. And the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has repeatedly refused to provide information on when or how its older or medically vulnerable incarcerated population will be vaccinated. More than 240 state inmates have died after contracting the coronavirus — about two of every 1,000 inmates — according to prison death reports analyzed by the Texas Justice Initiative.

The Morning Call : As COVID-19 cases mount at Lehigh County Jail, officials beg Pennsylvania leaders for assistance
Elected officials from Lehigh County urged state officials to send relief to Lehigh County Jail inmates, guards and staff, as coronavirus cases and deaths mount at the Allentown facility. State Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Peter Schweyer, County Executive Phillips Armstrong and Commissioner Geoff Brace said in a Jan. 29 letter that vaccines, COVID-19 tests and additional funding are desperately needed at the jail. Between staff and inmates, nearly 400 people there have tested positive for the virus since March, and two people have died since New Year’s Eve.

COVID-19 Sentence Reduction

Corrections 1: Mass. inmates won't get reduced sentences for getting vaccine
Days after Massachusetts prisoners were offered the possibility of reduced prison sentences for getting vaccinated, the Baker administration has taken that proposition off the table. A spokesperson for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security told MassLive the administration rescinded the offer after the governor’s office became aware of the memo because “the memo is not consistent with the administration’s policies regarding reduced prison terms.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer: With 13,000 infected, 100 dead of COVID-19 in Pa. prisons, advocates urge faster releases
Altogether, 96 state prisoners and four staff have died after contracting COVID-19, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. There have been at least 13,000 confirmed cases in the state prisons — 3,895 among staff and 9,431 among incarcerated people — an infection rate more than three times higher than in Pennsylvania as a whole. At the same time, advocates say officials are not acting with requisite urgency to reduce the prison population, which state leaders agree is central to mitigating the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 Deaths in Corrections

Big Island Now: Five COVID-19-Related Deaths Reported in O‘ahu Prison
The deaths of five male Halawa Correctional Facility inmates have been classified by the Hawai‘i Department of Health as COVID-19-related deaths. All above the age of 65, the prisoners’ deaths occurred in January. No additional information is being provided to protect individual medical privacy.

Correction's Negative Impact on Mental Health

Kare: Deadly pattern at Hennepin jail
A KARE 11 investigation reveals that Naajikhan Adonis Powell is just the latest person to die after being taken to the Hennepin County jail. He spent years battling mental illness, records show. In early September, after having an incident at a group home he asked to be taken to Hennepin Healthcare’s mental health department. There he would stay for about a week until hospital staff discharged him – straight into the handcuffs of a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy, who was there to arrest him for an outstanding warrant.

The CT Mirror: Lawsuit seeks to keep prisoners with mental illness out of Northern Correctional
Northern Correctional Institution’s use of solitary confinement and in-cell shackling amounts to discrimination against prisoners with mental illnesses, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday that seeks to end those practices. The lawsuit alleges the Connecticut DOC regularly incarcerates people with mental illnesses at Northern, confining them to their concrete cells for up to 24 hours per day, in a “world of near total social and sensory deprivation.” The conditions often lead to self harm.

Physical and Sexual Abuse in Corrections

The New York Times: 3 Male Guards Charged in Attacks at Notorious Women’s Prison
Three guards — including the two supervisors — were charged with crimes that carry mandatory five-year prison terms as part of a wide-ranging investigation into episodes that took place last month at the prison in western New Jersey. The arrests come less than 10 months after the Justice Department released a report that outlined “systemic failures” at Edna Mahan, the state’s only women’s prison. Protected by a “culture of acceptance,” guards regularly sexually assaulted female inmates, a pattern federal investigators deemed so prevalent that it was found to violate constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.

Drug Decriminalization and Treatment

The Oregonian: Oregon’s drug treatment system is not ready for Measure 110 aftermath, Salem Reporter finds
Oregonians passed Measure 110 last fall to take drug users out of jails and put them into clinics. That could move thousands of people into a system already clogged and lacking evidence it’s effective, an investigation by Salem Reporter found. Treatment providers, state policymakers and the ballot measure’s supporters agree too many Oregonians currently battle addiction on their own and too often die before they receive the treatment they need. But local treatment providers and state policymakers say there’s little data gauging whether the programs work.