Weekly Update: August 15, 2023

COCHS Weekly Update: August 15, 2023

Highlighted Stories

Editor's Note
Gathering stories for COCHS' Weekly Update, it is not uncommon to see certain themes emerge. One theme that stands out this week concerns aging in corrections. Below are articles that tell the stories of incarcerated people with dementia who may not know that they are incarcerated or why they are incarcerated. Other issues addressed are the lack of palliative care within corrections and the high cost of incarcerating seniors. It should be noted that many of these stories blame the War on Drugs for the large percentage of people behind bars who are above the age of 50.

President Nixon initiated the War on Drugs in 1971 and the success of that war can be judged by the multiple stories about the opioid epidemic also included in this update. Throughout this year COCHS has reported on changes of policy (which COCHS has worked on for years) that would allow for Medicaid to cover drug treatment within corrections prior to release. But draconian remedies are still being pursued. In July, the Weekly Update included an article from Virginia where legislators, in response to the alarming deaths caused by fentanyl, have proposed tough sentences for its distribution.

The nation is now at a crossroad, it knows the ramification of a war on drugs –a large aging, incarcerated population. There now seems to be a realization we cannot incarcerate out of this predicament. This acknowledgement has led to willingness to see if Medicaid coverage for drug treatment of people behind bars can stem the tide of substance use disorder. As the story from Virginia seems to suggest, if this is not successful, we might go down the same road we took 52 years ago.

Aging In Corrections
New York Times: I’ve Reported on Dementia for Years, and One Image of a Prisoner Keeps Haunting Me
At Federal Medical Center Devens, a federal prison in Massachusetts, there is a prisoner who thinks he is a warden. “I’m the boss. I’m going to fire you,” Victor Orena, who is 89, will tell the prison staff. Timothy Doherty, a senior officer specialist at F.M.C. Devens, which houses federal prisoners who require medical care, estimates that 90 percent of the men he oversees “don’t know what they did. Some of them don’t even know where they are.”

NPR: Prisons try to adjust as their inmate population grows older
A growing portion of the country's prison population is older than 55. That's meant higher costs for prisons and new efforts to provide care for advanced medical needs of the incarcerated. In 1991, for example, just 3% of the men and women behind bars in state and federal prisons were 55 or older. Over the course of three decades, that percentage of elderly prisoners has grown to 15%.

Hospice News: ‘It’s Where We’re at Right Now’: US Prison System Struggling to Keep Up with Growing Need for Palliative Care
Many incarcerated seniors who could benefit from palliative care do not receive adequate access or referrals to these services, according to Katherine Supiano, associate professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Utah. Swelling aging inmate populations are driving demand for palliative care in prison settings. Nearly one-third of the nation’s prison population will be 55 and older by 2030. Prison health care staff can include various clinical disciplines, but often lack palliative-specific professionals. Fellow inmate caregivers provide much of the care and support that palliative care patients receive in prison settings.

Prison Policy Initiative: The aging prison population: Causes, costs, and consequences
State and federal governments spend increasingly more money on consistently inadequate healthcare for their growing populations of older adults. While most studies on the steep costs of incarcerating older people date back at least a decade, their findings are consistently dramatic. For example, in California prisons in the 1990s, the state spent three times as much money to incarcerate an older person than someone of any other age group.

Opioid Epidemic
Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment: The impact of the implementation of medication for opioid use disorder and COVID-19 in a statewide correctional system on treatment engagement, postrelease continuation of care, and overdose
This study found increased treatment engagement and a decrease in opioid-related overdoses following implementation of MOUD in a statewide correctional system. These findings are consistent with prior research and provide compelling evidence in support of implementing MOUD in statewide correctional systems to increase access to these lifesaving medications. Improvements related to MOUD were somewhat attenuated with the onset of COVID-19, which was associated with decreased treatment engagement and an increase in nonfatal overdoses.

Valley News: Study finds successes in Vermont prison opioid treatment program
Vermont’s medication program for incarcerated people with opioid use disorder has helped reduce overdoses after release, though COVID-19 reversed some progress. Published in September’s edition of the Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment, the study examined treatment engagement and overdoses at three points in time: before Vermont’s prisons implemented medication-assisted treatment — or MAT — statewide, after it implemented the program but before COVID, and after the onset of COVID-19.

Addiction Policy Forum: Six Strategies to Prevent MOUD Diversion in Jail-Based Treatment Programs
Diversion of medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) treatment is often cited as a concern and a reason for not offering the medications in jails and prisons. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts published a study in 2023 that detailed promising practices in program design to help limit medication diversion. The study also details guidance for corrections and lawmakers as they consider implementing MOUD treatment in correctional settings.

MedCity News: ‘A Criminal Justice Approach to a Public Health Problem’: How the Justice System Can Improve SUD Support
About 85% of people in prisons have an active substance use disorder or were incarcerated for a crime involving drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Despite this, there is inadequate access to support in prisons, and additional challenges when leaving prisons. Less than 20% of people with substance use disorder receive formal treatment while incarcerated. As challenges to seeking care persist for those who are or were incarcerated, some digital solutions are stepping up: Bicycle Health, Boulder Care, CHESS Health.

New York Times: Inside California’s Program to Better Treat Addiction in Prisons
California is on the vanguard of efforts to treat addiction in prison in part because the situation in the state’s prisons has become so dire. In 2019, California prisons recorded the highest overdose mortality rate for a state prison system nationwide. At the State Prison in Chowchilla inmates are screened for substance use when they enter the facility. That allows staff members to prescribe buprenorphine, which treats opioid addictions, early in a prisoner’s sentence. The hope is that their cravings will be stanched.

Health Day: Just 1 in 5 Americans Struggling With Opioid Misuse Gets Meds That Can Help
The U.S. opioid abuse epidemic wages on, and overdose deaths continue to rise, yet just 1 in 5 people receives potentially lifesaving medication such as methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone to treat their addiction. For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Some groups were much less likely to receive medication for opioid use disorder, including Black adults, women, unemployed people, and those who lived in nonmetropolitan areas.

Press Democrat: California prisons have a drug problem. A strip search policy takes aim at visitors
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is facing pressure to stem the flow of drugs and cell phones into prisons, plans to make procedural changes that officials said would be minimal and meant to provide more clarity and consistency about the rights for those being searched. Proposed changes suggest correctional officers could have more discretion to perform a strip search. That change would lower the threshold for an officer to request a search from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion.” Advocates are worried it could lead to unnecessarily invasive interactions between prisoners’ loved ones and correctional officers.

Data & Statistics

NACJD: July 2023 Data Releases
Thw July the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD) at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) released 10 new studies. Newly released data cover topics such as school districts, evaluation, police, and more.


News Medical: Incarcerated women face challenges in accessing menstrual hygiene products
A new study has shown that among incarcerated women, many have to trade or barter to access menstrual hygiene products. The study, which examines menstrual equity, or the access to menstrual products and safe menstruating environments.


Stateline: Stifling prison heat used to be just a Southern problem. Not anymore.
While sweltering heat in prisons without air conditioning has long been an issue in the South, extreme heat waves worsened by climate change are expanding the problem into Northern states. In recent years, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have seen extreme heat in prisons. Many of these states lack the necessary infrastructure for ventilation or cooling systems capable of managing extreme heat.

KUT: Texas claims spike in prison deaths isn't heat-related. Study says that can’t be true.
Texas prisons have seen, on average, nearly two people die each day this summer, as the state sees a significant jump in deaths. A persistent, record setting and deadly heat wave has scorched the state during the same time period. But Texas officials say they have yet to confirm a heat-related prison death so far this year. It has been more a decade since the last one. That’s despite the state not having air conditioning in two thirds of its prisons.

WUSF: Advocate for Florida prison inmates discusses conditions during extreme heat wave
Advocates for inmates in Florida prisons have been working with the state Department of Corrections to mitigate the conditions there during an extreme heat wave. Many of these facilities have no air conditioning, which means the temperatures inside them can reach 15 degrees higher than those outside.


BMC: Harnessing education and lifestyle change to support transitional health for returning citizens: a feasibility study protocol
Exercise and healthy eating are known to reduce chronic disease risk; however, formerly incarcerated individuals (i.e., returning citizens) face significant social barriers when attempting to engage with existing community-based physical activity and nutrition programs. This article describes a process for evaluating the feasibility and acceptability of a physical activity and nutrition intervention tailored to the needs of returning citizens via a partnership between an academic research organization and a community-based reentry program for returning citizens.

State and Territory Roundup

CalMatters: Record numbers of people have died in California jails. Now lawmakers could crack down
A bill written by a powerful legislator from San Diego could upend California’s county jail systems by putting a “detention monitor” in jails to serve as a kind of statewide inspector general. Senate leader Toni Atkins said the bill would force sheriffs to disclose more information to the public about in-custody deaths.

Press-Enterprise: Courts ease oversight of Riverside County jail inmate health care, officials say
Health care for inmates in Riverside County jails has progressed to the point where the court system is stepping away from some oversight duties as part of a lawsuit settlement, according to the Sheriff’s Department. A federal judge this month upheld an agreement between the county and the Northern California-based Prison Law Office, a nonprofit public interest law firm that sued the county over medical and mental health care in the county’s five jails, sheriff’s officials have announced.

Los Angeles Times: Appeals court rules lawsuit by family of San Quentin guard who died of COVID-19 can proceed
A federal appeals court on Monday rejected California’s bid to toss out a lawsuit filed by the family of a corrections officer who died three years ago from COVID-19 after state officials ordered the transfer of infected inmates into his prison from another facility. Sgt. Gilbert Polanco died in August 2020, less than three months after buses carrying more than 120 inmates from an outbreak-ridden prison in Chino arrived at the gates of San Quentin.

Courthouse News Service: California prison officials on hook for claims by family of inmate killed by ‘vampire slasher’
A federal judge advanced claims against California prison officials brought by the family of a California prison inmate who was killed in the showers by a convicted murderer who claims to be a 2,000-year-old vampire who drinks his victims’ blood.

Sacramento Bee: Sacramento County may spend almost $1 billion on new annex at the downtown jail. Here’s why
Why spend millions on a mental health annex at the jail? Because so many people incarcerated in the jail have mental health diagnoses, the Sacramento County Main Jail has become one of the county’s largest mental health service providers. Three years ago, the county settled a class action lawsuit brought by people incarcerated in the county jails. The lead plaintiff in that case, Lorenzo Mays, spent eight years in solitary confinement while awaiting trial.

KDVR: Boulder County settles with man who gouged his eyes out in jail
Ryan Partridge, a former inmate at the Boulder County jail, has settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Sheriff Joe Pelle and Boulder County for a total of $2.55 million, according to Partridge’s attorney. Partridge filed a federal court complaint in 2017 claiming that jail staff acted “willfully” and with “deliberate indifference” in not treating Partridge for psychosis. He was under a court order to receive mental health services at the state hospital in Pueblo. Sheriff’s office employees made multiple attempts to get him to a facility. A backlog due to a lack of staffing at state hospitals has led to a delay in getting inmates treatment and evaluation.

Corrections 1: CO 'repeatedly' assaulted by male inmate in Conn. prison, official says
State officials say an inmate physically assaulted a guard at Bridgeport Correctional Center last week. The incident is the latest in a surge of assaults on correction officers reported at Connecticut DOC facilities and is at least the fifth reported incident so far this year reported by news media.

US News & World Report: Another Inmate Dies in Atlanta Following Incarceration at a Jail Under Federal Investigation
A Georgia inmate who was found unresponsive in a medical unit cell at a jail currently under federal investigation later died at an area hospital. Medical personnel resuscitated Christopher Smith, 34, after a detention officer at the Fulton County Jail found him. The U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation of the jail, citing Lashawn Thompson’s September 2022 death as one of dozens in the facility during the past few years.

New Hampshire
New Hampshire Bulletin: Can off-ramps keep the ‘regulars’ out of jail?
A small percentage of people with mental illness and substance use disorder return to jail so often – as many as 72 times in three years – they make up a third of incarcerations. In New Hampshire the judicial branch’s efforts have included mental health and substance misuse training for the entire court staff and an even bigger project: using a national model, Sequential Intercept Mapping, to identify opportunities to divert this population from the criminal justice path and figuring out the logistics to do it

ABC: Texas questions rights of a fetus after a prison guard who had a stillborn baby sues
The state of Texas is questioning the legal rights of an “unborn child” in arguing against a lawsuit brought by a prison guard who says she had a stillborn baby because prison officials refused to let her leave work for more than two hours after she began feeling intense pains similar to contractions. The argument from the Texas attorney general's office appears to be in tension with positions it has previously taken in defending abortion restrictions, contending all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court that “unborn children” should be recognized as people with legal rights.

ABC 13: Families of inmates who died at Harris Co. jail push for more clarity from local leaders
Harris County (Houston) community members and elected offici als hosted a community event to discuss changes they say need to be made inside of the jail to prevent more deaths. One of the changes includes diverting patients suffering from mental health issues to a different facility rather than being taken right to jail. Overcrowding is another concern for the group, asking for the district attorney to consider dismissing non-violent felony cases older than nine months.

VT Digger: Charge upgraded to murder in St. Albans prison fatal beating
An incarcerated South Burlington man who had been charged with attempted second-degree murder in the alleged assault of another man in custody late last year now is now facing a murder charge. Mbyayenge Mafuta, 22, is accused of beating Jeffrey Hall, 55, in a cell they shared at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans. Hall died months later from injuries sustained in the beating.

Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands Daily News: Prison formally opens Equine Therapy Program
The V.I. Bureau of Corrections formally opened the Equine Therapy Program at the John Bell prison on St. Croix, three years after it was first announced. According to a Government House statement on Friday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. visited the prison for a tour on July 31, and attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Equine Therapy Program, “which promises to foster rehabilitative opportunities for inmates.”

Rikers Island

New York Times: After Days of Chaos at Rikers, Judge to Hear Arguments for Takeover
A federal judge Thursday opened the door to stripping New York City of control over Rikers Island, in a hearing that highlighted the daily chaos that reigns in the jails despite repeated assertions by Mayor Eric Adams and his allies that conditions are improving. If a receiver is appointed that person.would have powers that correction commissioners do not overriding state and local laws, cutting through red tape and employment rules — which could mean severing or limiting the relationship between the jails and the correction officers’ union, which has major sway over how they are run.

New York Daily News: Why a Rikers watchdog wants a federal takeover: A majority of the Board of Correction calls for the courts to supersede the Department of Correction
The New York City Board of Correction (BOC), the civilian watchdog for the city’s jails has found the Department of Correction intent on obstructing the BOC’s access to data required to do our work; unnecessarily adversarial when we provide feedback; dismissive of civilian oversight; recalcitrant when asked to explain their actions in public; and, most importantly, incapable of ensuring a safe environment both for the people in its custody and people who work in the jails. For these reasons, we, representing a majority of the Board of Correction, join the call that Rikers Island be placed into federal receivership.

New York Times: Rikers Watchdog Sues New York City Over Lack of Transparency
The Board of Correction, filed its suit in Bronx State Supreme Court, seeking to wrest back unfettered access to surveillance video from the jails. The jails commissioner, Louis A. Molina, stopped the board from accessing the footage, which allows it to monitor jail conditions at any given moment, earlier this year. The suit arrived the same day that the majority of the board — five of its eight members — called in a New York Daily News opinion article for the jails to be taken over by an independent authority known as a receiver.

New York Times: New York City Has ‘Tepid’ Plans for Fixing Rikers, Monitor Says
If New York City officials feel any urgency about fixing the persistent problems at the Rikers Island jail complex, they are not showing it, according to a report filed on Monday by the federal official appointed to monitor the lockup. The monitor, Steve J. Martin, writes in the report that the city Correction Department’s most recent efforts toward improving conditions at the Rikers complex have been “haphazard, tepid and insubstantial.”

Corrections 1: Records: Officials skipped weekly fire safety checks at Rikers Island jail before near-deadly blaze
Correction Department officials failed to perform required weekly and monthly fire safety inspections for at least a year before a near-deadly blaze in April in a Rikers Island jail that injured 20 detainees and officers. The fire in the North Infirmary Command burned one detainee severely enough to send him to an intensive care unit. Several other detainees and as many as a dozen correction officers were treated for smoke inhalation.


Citrus County Chronicle: CoreCivic needs to staff our county jail properly
The Citrus County Detention Facility (FL) unlike other county jails it is operated by CoreCivic. The county’s contract with CoreCivic requires certain things including staffing levels. The county started to fine CoreCivic last year for failing to maintain critical-level employees at contracted levels. The most recent report indicated the critical level of employees was down to 58.99 percent. The county started the fines at $3,750 per day but reduced it to $1,000 as a good faith gesture.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Advanced Correctional Healthcare
Star Tribune: Protesters demand answers, accountability after death of 22-year-old inmate in Anoka County jail
A crowd of family members, friends and activists rallied outside of the Anoka County (MN) jail to demand answers about how a 22-year-old died days after being brought to the facility. Anoka County contracts with medical provider, Advanced Correctional Healthcare Inc.

Armor Correctional Health Services
The Tributary: Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office announces 11th jail death this year
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office announced the second death of an inmate in three days. Danny Q. James, 40, died Thursday morning after being “found in medical distress” at the Duval County jail, according to a news release. The Tributary found that deaths in the Duval County jail tripled since Armor Correctional Health Services started handling health care – with about four deaths per year from 2012 to 2017 when health care was handled in-house to about 13 deaths per year since 2018.

Yahoo: Comparing contracts for jail healthcare providers
Action News Jax obtained the contracts for Armor Health and the new company, NaphCare, they are nearly identical but there are some differences. NaphCare’s base pay for the first year is over $20 million compared to Armor’s $17 million, NaphCare has a three-year deal that JSO can extend to five, while Amor had a five-year deal. If JSO decides to extend to five years, it would be worth over $110 million.

Monterey County Weekly: Appeals Court decision allows release of thousands of pages of documents about conditions in Monterey County Jail.
The public now has its clearest picture yet of medical and mental health care conditions at Monterey County Jail after the release of previously sealed reports by neutral monitors charged with inspecting the state of the jail. “For more than seven-and-a-half years, Wellpath has defied its Court-ordered obligations and provided systemically inadequate care to people incarcerated at the Monterey County Jail,” according to the plaintiffs’ motion.

Voices Of Monterrey Bay: Newly released records detail horrific health care failures at Monterey County Jail Death rate twice the national average as for-profit
A crew of court-appointed specialists in medical and mental health, safety procedures, accessibility and other areas documented case after case of Wellpath nurses and others failing to perform proper intake examinations, failing to refer ailing inmates to physicians, weeks or months of waiting for medical care obviously needed earlier, conditions obviously requiring speedier attention, failing to provide walkers or wheelchairs to disabled inmates, and failing to provide inmates with critical prescription medications.

VT Digger: In medical error, 15 incarcerated people given codeine, Tylenol instead of opioid addiction medication
In a medical error, an estimated 15 people incarcerated at Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans received codeine and Tylenol on July 23 rather than buprenorphine to treat their opioid use disorder. The department relies on a private contractor, Wellpath, to provide health care services in its prisons.