Weekly Update: January 19, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: January 19, 2021

COVID-19 Resistance to Vaccinations in Corrections

7 News: Middlesex County sheriff’s survey shows inmates apprehensive about COVID-19 vaccine
People incarcerated in state prisons or county houses of correction will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday, but Gov. Charlie Baker (MA) said Wednesday his administration does not know how many will actually accept it. Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian had been wondering the same thing. Of the 406 incarcerated people who responded to the sheriff’s survey, 40 percent said they would take an approved COVID-19 vaccine right now if it were offered to them free of charge and 60 percent said they would refuse the vaccination.

Oklahoma Watch: Inmates, Corrections Staff Express Reluctance to Take the COVID-19 Vaccine
Shipments of the vaccine should start arriving at prisons, jails and other congregate living facilities by the end of the month, state deputy health commissioner Keith Reed told Oklahoma Watch in an email. Some inmates, aware of the history of medical experimentation on prisoners, remain skeptical about taking the vaccine. Some inmates at the facility are concerned about long term side effects and will wait to see how the vaccine affects their peers.

COVID-19 Vaccines for The Incarcerated

The Washington Post: Prisons are covid hot spots. But few countries are prioritizing vaccines for inmates.
In the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, one in five prisoners have had covid-19, according to the Marshal Project. While vaccination priorities and distribution are set by each state, groups like the American Medical Association have lobbied for inmates to be included in initial rollouts, along with essential workers in the criminal justice sector. About a dozen states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have prioritized inmates in the first phases of inoculation.

Carolina Public Press: Reshuffling again: Federal and NC vaccine changes promote uncertainty for prisons
North Carolina changed its COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans for a second time Thursday, reshuffling who is prioritized for a shot and when. For a second time, most people in prison were pushed down the list, a decision that seems to be in line with guidelines from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but is at odds with recommendations from other federal bodies and public health experts who study disease spread through prisons.

13 ABC: Groups call on state to prioritize vaccination of people in Michigan prisons
A coalition of eight groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, are urging the governor's office and the state health department director to prioritize the vaccination of people who are incarcerated. COVID-19 has spread in every Michigan prison facility, infecting over half of the population since March and killing 123 people.

West Hawaii Today: ACLU asks state to vaccinate sick, elderly prisoners on same schedule as those not incarcerated
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Hawaii is urging state officials to vaccinate sick and elderly incarcerated jail and prison inmates for COVID-19 on the same timetable they would individuals in the same risk groups who aren’t incarcerated. Hawaii has a “limited supply” of the COVID-19 vaccine and is working on vaccinating “high-risk priority groups,” according to the state Department of Health website.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

WDRB: COVID-19 outbreaks at 2 Kentucky prisons lead to hundreds of new cases
Kentucky health officials are working to curtail two major COVID-19 outbreaks in state prisons. The Kentucky Department of Corrections said 716 people at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex tested positive for the coronavirus. That's nearly half the people incarcerated there. Eighty staff members are also positive. Gov. Andy Beshear commuted the sentences of nearly 2,000 people to reduce the prison population due to the way the virus spreads. Still, state reports show 39 people have died in Kentucky prisons from COVID-19.

The Mercury News: Santa Clara County jail infections keep soaring as officials ponder another batch release
On the heels of a big outbreak to start the year, Santa Clara County jails have recorded an even larger surge in COVID-19 infections over the past week, hitting an all-time peak and spurring prosecutors, public defenders and judges to consider a batch release of inmates akin to jail-reduction efforts at the start of the pandemic. An outbreak in December, and coincided with the revelation that multiple correctional deputies and supervisors gathered indoors, unmasked, at a private holiday party that surfaced on Facebook. Instances like the deputy party have prompted many jail observers to conclude that given the isolation of the jail population, they suspect infection risks have been coming into the jails increasingly through deputies and staff.

San Jose Spotlight: Santa Santa Clara County inmates report unsafe conditions, go on hunger strike as COVID-19 cases soar
Inmates in Santa Clara County’s jails are on a hunger strike as cases of COVID-19 rage through the correctional system amid reports of unsanitary, unsafe and cruel conditions. Silicon Valley De-Bug, an advocacy and organizing group, said inmates in the county’s main jail will stage a hunger strike beginning Jan. 13 in protest of “conditions of confinement and cruel and unusual punishment” related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 Testing

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland no longer testing every Baltimore inmate before court appearances, upsetting attorneys and staff
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is no longer testing all incarcerated defendants for the coronavirus before bringing them to in-person court hearings, raising alarm among correctional officers, attorneys and others who interact with them in court. More than two dozen inmates have been brought to court hearings from the Baltimore Pretrial Complex without receiving COVID-19 rapid tests beforehand.

COVID-19 Voices of Inmates and Their Families

The New York Times: Losing a Loved One Twice: First to Prison, Then to Covid
As the coronavirus swept through prisons across the United States, mourning families were left to navigate grief complicated by stigma and red tape. The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country. A disproportionate number of them are Black and Hispanic — two groups that have also been hit hard by the pandemic. Families at this crossroads of personal loss and structural inequity know the heartache of losing someone twice: once to incarceration, and then again, forever, to the virus.

COVID-19 and Inmate Mental Health

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Federal judge: Philly jails must relax extreme COVID-19 lockdown measures for sake of mental health
Since COVID-19 first threatened an outbreak within the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, the time that prisoners are permitted out of their cell has been counted not in hours but precious minutes. Civil-rights lawyers have fought to guarantee a minimum of 45 minutes a day, and said the prisons frequently failed to deliver even that. But in mid-December, after an outbreak infected at least 150 people, the department announced an even stricter lockdown, allowing for just 15 minutes a day through Jan. 20. Now, a federal judge has ordered the department to ease that policy.

COVID-19 Health IT in Corrections

Cerner: Using technology to manage health care in correctional settings
Cerner, an EHR vendor in correctional and non-correctional facilities, has recently released this podcast that explores how the integration of the EHR with state public health agencies and labs has helped health care providers stay on top of conditions that need to be reported. Included is an explanation about which EHR functionalities are most helpful to corrections agencies as they work to provide care to offenders and assist clinicians. For more information about EHRs in corrections see: COCHS' Health IT page.

COVID-19 Early Release

47 ABC: Proposed bill could reduce inmates’ sentences under public health emergencies
A bill that could reduce prison time under special circumstances for inmates in Delaware is set to be reviewed by legislators. Rep. Minor-Brown says getting there could start with House Bill 37. The bill would create a public health emergency credit. For every month served during a declared public health emergency, prisoners would get six months taken off their sentence. Brickner says the bill was created in response to COVID-19. But could have a lasting impact on how Delaware deals with future public health emergencies.

The Daily Chronicle: Federal Courts Move to Release Some Western Washington Inmates Vulnerable to COVID-19
Johnny Madison Williams Jr., known to the FBI as "The Shootist," gained infamy as one of the most prolific bank robbers in U.S. history. Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly, the same stern jurist who in 1995 sentenced Williams to an exceptional 1,114 months in prison, on Monday ordered Williams released rather than risk his compromised health from exposure to the novel coronavirus that is raging inside federal prisons, including Federal Detention Center-Lompoc (Calif.), where Williams was recently transferred.

Bail Reform

The Hill: Illinois ends cash bail as part of criminal justice reforms
A lame-duck session of the Illinois General Assembly passed a set of criminal justice reforms on Wednesday that is likely to outlast many of their terms in office. The omnibus bill, which is headed to the governor after it passed the Senate, paves a road to ending cash bail in the state among other sweeping changes. Research shows the pretrial risk assessments that courts use to determine the likelihood that someone will fail to appear for court or be arrested for a new crime perpetuate racism and are not reliably accurate.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On People with Disabilities

The New York Times: Parents Sue Louisiana Sheriff and Deputies Over Autistic Son’s Death
The parents of an autistic teenager who died last year after an encounter with sheriff’s deputies in Jefferson Parish, La., filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that deputies who were trying to restrain him had sat on him for a total of more than nine minutes, leading to his death. In the lawsuit, Dr. Parsa and Dr. Lou charge that the authorities exhibited negligence and used excessive force while also violating their son’s civil rights and his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Correctional Health Care Vendors and Private Prisons

The Los Angeles Times: Inspection of Otay Mesa Detention Center finds deficiencies, including medical care
A November inspection of Otay Mesa Detention Center, conducted virtually because of the pandemic, found eight deficiencies under detention standards that the contracted private facility is required to follow, according to records released this week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ryan Gustin, spokesman for CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates the facility, said that the company was “grateful” for the report’s feedback. One detainee — who tested positive for COVID-19 in October — complained of being unable to discuss more than one health issue at a time when being seen by the facility doctor.

The Guardian: Immigrants lacked soap as Covid spread at Ice detention centers, report finds
Immigrants lacked access to the most basic Covid-19 prevention measures, such as soap for hand-washing, and were retaliated against for raising safety concerns as the pandemic spread through detention facilities last year, according to a new report on the grim conditions at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) facilities. A 33-year-old man at Otay Mesa detention center (a CoreCivic facility) told the researchers: “I think I got Covid because I had body pain and felt short of breath. But I never said anything to anybody because I was so scared that they were going to punish me.”

The Times-Picayune: 5 years after negligent inmate death, St. Bernard Parish Jail faces two more lawsuits
Relatives of two men who died while detoxing at the St. Bernard Parish Jail in late 2019 and early 2020 are suing Sheriff James Pohlmann, alleging negligence by deputies and the jail’s medical provider, CorrectHealth.