Weekly Update: April 6, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: April 06, 2021

Highlighted Stories

New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers: The Right to Trial Under Attack
Over the past three decades, the number of criminal trials in New York State has steadily declined, and guilty pleas have become the principal mechanism of convictions. The decline in trials and rise in guilty pleas severely weakens the integrity of the justice system. Trials and pretrial motion practice provide a critical check on law enforcement overreach and abuse and assures public transparency in the administration of justice. Guilty pleas not only allow prosecutors to avoid proving their case before a jury of the defendant’s peers, but also to avoid legal and constitutional challenges to law enforcement methods of investigation. Defendants who plead guilty generally are required to waive appellate review, foreclosing another avenue of legal challenge to their convictions and sentences.

The Sacramento Bee: No sunlight. No human contact. Why Sacramento still uses extreme isolation in jail
Experts have long documented how solitary confinement can further harm people locked inside. The extreme isolation worsens the effects of mental illnesses and backtracks on improvements that come from what little treatment does exist in jails. Even though a federal judge in 2019 ordered the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office to stop using such extreme isolation on people with serious mental illnesses, the sheriff continues the practice. Limited space for mental health services and soaring demand for help have clogged the pipeline for years, making a difficult situation miserable for both the people in crisis and the employees responsible for them.

The New York Times: New York Will End Long-Term Solitary Confinement in Prisons and Jails
In a far-reaching move that will fundamentally change life behind bars in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday signed into law a bill that will end the use of long-term solitary confinement in prisons and jails. The new law is set to restrict prisons and jails from holding people in solitary confinement — nearly all-day isolation — for more than 15 consecutive days. It also bars the practice entirely for several groups, including minors and people with certain disabilities.

The Crime Report: Youth Justice System Worsened During Pandemic
The pandemic has made it more difficult for justice-involved youth to receive fair treatment in the justice system, according to a report by the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC). “What has passed as due process in this time of COVID threatens to unravel the fabric of the Constitutional protections that stand between young people and injustice,” wrote the authors of the report, entitled “Due Process in the Time of COVID.”

The Crime Report: COVID Infections Soared in Prisons Where Testing was ‘Limited’
In states where testing for COVID-19 within prisons was “limited,” rates of infection among incarcerated people were nearly eight times the rate for non-incarcerated populations of similar age, gender and race, according to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice. States that did not implement a mass testing strategy for incarcerated populations had “significantly more” COVID-19 deaths among the incarcerated, said the report.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

Newsy: The Challenges Behind Vaccinating Inmates
A filmed interview of inmates at a Missouri correctional center about why they're hesitant to get vaccinated.

ABC: As COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expands, there's still no plan to vaccinate Florida prison inmates
As COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expands, Florida is part of a shrinking number of states that has yet to vaccinate a single prison inmate. Florida is one of four states where prison inmates and/or staff have not been made eligible for the vaccine, according to KFF (The Kaiser Family Foundation), rejecting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation.

NPR: How public health and prisons are intertwined
Despite a very high risk of infection, incarcerated people were not mentioned in early versions of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s vaccination plans. Correctional officers were given priority as frontline essential workers. This changed on March 12, according to Lynn Sutfin, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson. “Detained people” were added to group 1-B of Whitmer’s vaccination plan. Chris Gautz is the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says the MDOC’s new plan is to have bulks of 4,500 vaccines and start vaccinating everyone at select prisons at a time, as opposed to giving vaccines to every prison.

COVID-19 Judicial Rulings

The Oregonian: Judge orders Oregon prison to stop foot-dragging on mask mandates; doctor ‘at war’ with staff over COVID-19 misinformation
Multnomah Circuit Court Judge Amy Baggio ordered officials at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario to devise a plan to enforce mask use at the prison and to deploy mass testing after finding that the state’s treatment of two inmates reflected indifference during the pandemic. “Certain SRCI staff view mask wearing as an issue of politics rather than one related to health and welfare during a pandemic,” Baggio concluded. “Mask failures by staff are particularly troubling considering the very nature of their jobs: to oversee a large, congregate environment.”

The Buffalo News: Timeline for local jail inmates to get Covid vaccine unclear
Just how soon county jail inmates start receiving Covid-19 vaccines remained unclear Tuesday, a day after a judge ruled New York State immediately had to offer vaccinations to incarcerated persons. A State Supreme Court justice in the Bronx on Monday ruled the state's decision to exclude incarcerated people from being eligible to get the vaccine “was unquestionably arbitrary and capricious."

COVID-19 Ending Lockdown in Corrections

The Washington Post: End the coronavirus lockdown in the D.C. Jail
In an op-ed, Shannon Elizabeth Fyfe and Andrew Peterson of George Mason University, write: It is urgent that we end the coronavirus lockdown in the D.C. Jail. Continued lockdown is inhumane and inconsistent with public health guidance. For nearly a year, the D.C. Jail has been on a coronavirus lockdown. Inmates have lived in their cells for 23 hours a day. They are not permitted to see their families or friends. Even interaction with attorneys is sparse. One inmate disclosed that he hadn’t “seen sunlight for literally a year.”

The Press Democrat: Inmates at Sonoma County Jail stage hunger strike to demand in-person visits
Nearly 100 inmates at the Sonoma County Jail began a hunger strike this week in an attempt to pressure jail administrators into reinstating in-person visits with family and friends more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic prompted jail staff to cut off such contact. The primary purpose for the strike is to allow in-person visits at the facility, though other requests related to broader access to work assignments and electronic tablets, which can be used for entertainment, were also brought up.

The Daily Journal: Correctional visitations can resume in San Mateo County
Movement into the state’s orange tier has permitted visitations at San Mateo County’s (CA) two correctional facilities to restart, allowing families and friends to visit their inmate loved ones after a year apart due to the pandemic. “Resuming in-person visits is part of our ongoing efforts to balance the need to protect incarcerated individuals and our staff from COVID and to provide the inmates opportunities to maintain relationships with their loved ones,” Sheriff Carlos Bolanos said in a statement.

COVID-19's Impact On Reentry

PBS News Hour: People leaving prison have a hard time getting jobs. The pandemic has made things worse
For formerly incarcerated people, the ability to find employment has only become harder over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unemployment in the U.S. to skyrocket to levels not seen since 1948, when jobless data collection began. While employment has somewhat rebounded in recent months, experts say that things have not improved in the same ways for people reentering society after leaving prison.

The Next Pandemic and Corrections

The Crime Report: Jails, Prisons ‘Utterly Unprepared’ for Next Pandemic
Even as prisons and jails continue to grapple with the pandemic that swept through their facilities over the past 12 months, the nation’s justice systems have taken few steps to prepare for the next health emergency, warns a correctional union leader. Sharon Dolovich, a UCLA law professor who directs the COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, said she hopes policymakers will use the lessons of the pandemic as an opportunity to reshape the carceral system. Dolovich added that thinking about prison from “a narrow, public safety perspective” ―concerned with keeping individuals locked up to protect other potential victims―ignored the connection between public health and public safety.

Criminal Justice Reform

The Washington Post: Here’s some hope for supporters of criminal justice reform
In an op-ed, Charles Lane writes: For federal crimes of all types, there is still a Black-White discrepancy, but it, too, has shrunk, from 34 months in 2009 to less than six months in 2018. This remarkable but unheralded progress reflects 15 years of reforms by the courts, Congress and, most important, the Justice Department. The racial disparity in federal drug-crime sentencing, adjusted for severity of the offense and offender characteristics such as criminal history, shrank from 47 months in 2009 to nothing in 2018, according to a new research paper by sociologist Michael Light of the University of Wisconsin.

VT Digger: Pilot project proposed to help keep probationers out of prison
If courts and correction officials knew more about offenders, the result could be a reduction in probation violations that can send people to jail, according to a proposal now in the Legislature. The bill, H.20, calls for a pilot project in courts to prepare a report on people about to be sentenced to probation on felony charges. The report would explore what the person needs so they can stay out of trouble, avoid violating the conditions of probation, and not be sent to jail.

The Davis Vanguard: Study Finds Declining to Prosecute Low Level Offenses Reduces Crime
For years, advocates of Broken Windows Theory argued that cracking down on low level offenses and visible signs of crime will help prevent more serious crimes from occurring. But critics have pointed to disproportionate policing and prosecution of people of color, mass incarceration, and the detrimental impacts of that on the people caught up in the system. A study released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that declining to prosecute many misdemeanors and other non-violent offenses does not harm public safety and actually can lead to less crime committed in the future.

Correctional Facilities

New York Law Journal: First Dept. Allows NYC Government to Move Forward on New Manhattan Jail to Replace Rikers
A New York state appeals court ruled Tuesday that New York City can move ahead with plans to build a new jail to replace Rikers Island in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, rejecting a challenge from residents who said the process ran afoul of local zoning laws. A four-judge panel of the Appellate Division, First Department overturned a lower court’s ruling that required the city to restart scoping after officials abandoned a proposal to build the jail three blocks south on Centre Street.

Bradenton Herald: Hundreds of Manatee jail inmates evacuating from toxic flood threat at Piney Point
With the county jail inside the evacuation zone of a possible Piney Point flood, Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells revised his previous contingency plan, choosing instead to relocate more than 300 inmates. In a Sunday morning news briefing, county officials said the sheriff’s office had determined there was enough space to house all jail personnel and inmates on the second floor of the facility.

The Oklahoman: Bedbugs, moldy showers: Dozens of health violations found at troubled Oklahoma County jail
An inspection of the Oklahoma County jail in February found moldy showers, a bedbug infestation, cockroaches, overcrowded cells, insufficient staffing and other health violations. The Oklahoma Health Department on Tuesday gave the jail 60 days to correct the dozens of deficiencies identified in the 38-page report. The inspectors reported detention officers were failing to make required hourly "sight" checks of every inmate. And, according to the report, a number of inmates could not seek help on a "duress/emergency" system because phones did not work or calls went unanswered.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

ABC News: 7 Texas officers fired following death of Black jail inmate
Seven officers involved in the in-custody death of a Black jail inmate, Marvin Scott, in Texas whose family members say may have been suffering a mental health crisis have been fired, a sheriff said. While at the jail, Scott began to exhibit “some strange behavior.” Detention officers placed Scott on a restraint bed, used pepper spray and covered his face with a spit mask. Scott became unresponsive at some point and later was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The Gazette: Spike in suicides in El Paso County jail highlights shortfalls of mental health care for those behind bars
Suicides remain as the No. 1 cause of death in jails nationwide and as the El Paso County jail juggled mental health providers after a report found "critical shortfalls" in the jail's former health care contractor. After making the switch to a new contractor, three more suicide have been reported. Nearly 35% of the people incarcerated at the El Paso County jail were identified as having a mental illness, including 34 on suicide watch, according to an April 2 jail population report. Since the El Paso County jail switched to Nashville-based provider WellPath in January 2020, three inmates have died by suicide. It's unclear what treatment they were receiving inside the jail or if the jail's medical staff was aware of their mental illnesses.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

CNN: See how a Street Crisis Response Team takes on 911 mental health calls
Amid protests calling for alternative services to police responders, cities have started implementing crisis response teams to replace police officers for certain 911 calls. In San Francisco, a new street crisis response team is comprised of behavioral and mental health experts who respond to non-violent incidents.

The Roanoke Times: Montgomery County special court to focus on mental health
Montgomery County is launching a new court program aimed at steering some defendants with mental health issues back to stability – and away from incarceration. “A large number of people recycle in and out of the Montgomery County Jail multiple times per year on minor, non-violent offenses,” said a statement that the Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt released Thursday to announce the new program. “In addition, people with a mental illness who are released from jail often fail to successfully access community treatment services. This failure to stabilize … often results in new arrests, once again stressing the financial and personnel resources of the criminal justice community.”

WBIW: Law to help inmates with mental health needs
Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 63 into law Thursday that would prevent inmates who need mental health upon release from the Department of Correction (DOC) from being put out on the streets with nowhere to go if a spot for them in a treatment facility or with a family member is unavailable.

KMTV: Sarpy Board approves UNMC inmate mental health fellowship program
On Tuesday, the Sarpy County Board approved a program that will create a partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to assess and provide care to inmates who are suffering from mental illness while incarcerated. Under the agreement, the University of Nebraska Medical will provide one psychiatrist a year to help with psychiatric services “primarily for inmates with serious mental illness” at a cost of $1.2 million to the county. The fellowship psychiatrist will “provide psychiatric treatment, prescribe medication, help with medication management, provide court testimony and reports, and potentially complete competency evaluations.”

Transgender Inmates

The Los Angeles Times: California prisons grapple with hundreds of transgender inmates requesting new housing
Just over 1% of California’s prison population — or 1,129 inmates — have identified as nonbinary, intersex or transgender, according to the corrections department, populations that experience excessive violence in prison. Last fall groundbreaking legislation (SB 132) gave transgender, intersex and nonbinary inmates the right, regardless of anatomy, to choose whether to be housed in a male or female prison.


Mass Live: Medical Director for Hampden Sheriff’s Department, physician at Springfield’s Brightwood Health Center wins national award
The medical director for the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Dr. Thomas Lincoln, has received the W. Lester Henry Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for his work to ensure inmates and underserved people who live in the North End of Springfield receive the health care they need. Dr. Lincoln's work to connect inmates with health care services after they are released from jail is a model that has been adopted by other correctional institutions across the country.

Telemedicine in Corrections

Business Wire: Inland Empire Health Plan Improves Specialty Care Access for Inmates During Pandemic with eConsult from Safety Net Connect
Safety Net Connect announced the results from an Inland Empire Health Plan study on the implementation and impact of eConsult in two Southern California county jail systems, which increased safe, timely access to specialty care while reducing the need for in-person specialist visits. The study published in the March 2021 volume of NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery, reviewed the impact of Safety Net Connect’s eConsult platform (Converge) on the care of inmates at Riverside County Correctional Health Services and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, in partnership with specialists from Riverside University Health Systems and Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, respectively. Results show that over a 12-month period, 20% of all cases typically referred for in-person specialist visits were treated onsite by Primary Care Providers after consultation with the RUHC and ARMC specialists

Private Prisons and Correctional Healthcare Vendors

The Democratic Underground: Prison official steered $123M contract to company that hired him, lawsuit says
"A Tennessee prison official steered a $123 million state contract to a health care firm before taking a job as a vice president at the same company, according to an antitrust lawsuit filed against the Department of Correction. The lawsuit centers on the 2020 contract to provide behavioral health care to Tennessee prison inmates. In the suit, Brentwood-based prison health care company Corizon accuses the state of skewing the public bidding process to benefit its competitor, Centurion.

Phoenix New Times: No Masks, Delayed Medications: Report Finds Staff Mistreated Detainees at Arizona ICE Facility
Staff at a CoreCivic run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Arizona failed to enforce COVID-19 mitigation protocols, verbally abused detainees, and used pepper spray to suppress a detainee protest, a new internal investigation found. The report, which is dated March 30 and was produced by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, found that staff at La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, violated ICE detention standards that "threatened the health, safety, and rights of detainees" during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the early days of the pandemic, the facility made headlines for having a severe COVID-19 outbreak. Staff failed to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing protocols, which the report states "may have contributed to the widespread COVID-19 outbreak at the facility."