Weekly Update: January 12, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: January 12, 2021

COVID-19 Impacting Jury Trial

The Washington Post: In Maryland, some behind bars have little hope of a speedy trial
In an opinion piece, Todd Oppenheim, an attorney in the Baltimore City Public Defender’s Office, writes: The Maryland Court of Appeals suspended jury trials statewide from March until October, then put them on hold again in November. Putting the current state of our court system in perspective, the pre-pandemic mode featured injustices such as corrupt policing, excessive pretrial incarceration, overcharged cases and disproportionate arrests and sentencing skewing more severely against Black people. Now, my clients are just stuck in a holding pattern on most cases that prosecutors or judges deem “serious” or “violent.” This is a new injustice.

DCist: With Jury Trials On Pause, A Growing Number of Inmates Are Being Held Indefinitely At The D.C. Jail
As of mid-December, 430 jury trials had been delayed at the D.C. Superior Court due to the pandemic, including 139 cases that involve defendants awaiting trial at the jail. The pileup has led to an increase of the jail’s population, alarming experts who say overcrowding puts inmates at risk of contracting the coronavirus. In June, after a severe coronavirus outbreak at the jail, a federal court ordered the D.C. Department of Corrections to implement sweeping health reforms and to come up with a detailed plan to reduce the jail’s population.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

News 4 Jax : COVID-19 inmate death toll up to 196 in Florida
The number of Florida prison inmates who have died of COVID-19 has increased to 196, up seven from last month, according to state prison and health agencies. Also, five corrections staff members have died. The Reception and Medical Center in Union County has been linked to 43 inmate deaths, while the South Florida Reception Center in Miami-Dade County has been linked to 23, according to a breakdown on the Florida Department of Health website.

East Bay Times: Santa Rita Jail sees second biggest COVID outbreak of the pandemic
Alameda County’s jail is seeing its biggest outbreak of COVID-19 cases since last July, according to sheriff’s officials. As of Thursday, 76 inmates and six staff members at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin had the virus, down from a peak of 109 inmates and 12 staff or contractors in December, the Sheriff’s Office said. The jail currently has 2,124 inmates, as its population has risen closer to the pre-pandemic 2,597 of March 1, 2020.

VT Digger: Five corrections workers in four state prisons test positive for Covid-19
Five more correctional staff members have tested positive for Covid-19 across four different Vermont prisons. Since the outbreak, 58 prisoners have tested positive in Vemont’s prisons since March, including more than 40 during an outbreak in late March and April at the St. Albans prison. Also, 185 inmates from Vermont held at a prison in Mississippi have tested positive for Covid-19 since last spring.

COVID-19 Vaccines for The Incarcerated

Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Prisons' vaccine effort leaving inmates out
As Arkansas began rolling out covid-19 vaccines to staff members in the state's prison system last week, one group remained left off the priority list: inmates. Advocates for placing inmates as a priority for vaccines say they are vulnerable because, like nursing home residents, they live, eat and sleep in confined areas. The state says that it's the staff -- guards, office workers and others -- who carry the virus in. Arkansas is one of 11 states that has not included prisoners in any vaccine blueprint.

Fauquier Times: Virginia includes prisoners in next stage of vaccine rollout
Public health officials in Virginia plan to begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations to inmates in state prisons and local jails when they begin the next phase of their rollout plan, according to a schedule released this week. Advocacy groups that have been pushing for Northam’s administration to include inmates alongside corrections staff, who the CDC did include in its recommendations for phase 1b, as did Northam’s administration.

The City: COVID-19 Vaccines Headed to Rikers Island and Other City Jails
City jail health officials have begun vaccinating medical staff against COVID-19 — and hope to soon start inoculating correction officers and inmates, according to multiple sources. The de Blasio administration recently got permission from the state to “offer the COVID-19 vaccine to our highest risk patients,” Dr. Patsy Yang, senior vice president for Correctional Health Services, wrote in an email to staff on Sunday. Inmate advocates contend that people locked up should be prioritized because it is near-impossible to remain socially distant and repeatedly wash hands behind bars.

Star Tribune: For some Minnesota prisoners, vaccine a turning point in grueling fight with COVID-19
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has allocated around 400 doses of the vaccine to treat the state's highest-risk prisoners. Last month, Ramsey County District Judge Sara Grewing blasted the prison system for its handling of the pandemic, noting that Minnesota ranked sixth in the nation for prison infection rates per capita, and that the prison rate was more than six times higher than the state's infection rate outside the prison system.

Overzealous Probation Violation Enforcement

Daily Beast: This Dad Was Arrested for Not Updating His Address. Three Days Later He Was Dead in Jail.
A Georgia father-of-two was arrested because he didn’t change his address with his probation officer. Three days later, he was found dead inside his jail cell. Lee Michael Creely, 34, had moved into a new home only three weeks before he died in the Chatham County lockup. His partner, Jessica Hodges, and their sons had outgrown their mobile home and were excited to start a new chapter of their lives. Police arrested Creely, who previously pleaded guilty to drug possession, for a probation violation on Sept. 3 because his probation officer wasn’t aware of the new address.

Abuse of Women in Corrections

New 4 Jax: Florida lawmakers seek reforms after report of abuse at women’s prison
A group of female legislators hope other lawmakers are receptive to changes in Florida’s correctional system after a federal investigation found the state failed to protect inmates from sexual abuse by staff at the state’s largest women’s prison. Four Democratic legislators called for the removal of some upper-level administrators and for mental-health evaluations of staff at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, which was the focus of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and Florida federal prosecutors.

Medication Delivery in Jail

Public Source: Mixed-up meds & long waits: How understaffing hurts medical treatment at Allegheny County Jail
At Allegheny County Jail, waiting for medical care can be like taking a number and waiting weeks or months before it’s called. Dr. Peter Hauber, a psychiatrist employed at the jail from 2016 to 2019, said medication errors were made frequently and without any repercussions. “If a hospital had those types of medication errors, they would be shut down,” Hauber said. At the jail, medications are supposed to be given each morning and evening. Yet according to numerous former employee accounts, medications were often given late or missed altogether, and medication errors were common. For more information concerning medications in corrections, see COCHS' issue paper: Prescribing and Dispensing Medications within Correctional Environments.

Criminal Justice's Mental Health Initiatives

Courier Times: Bucks County moving forward with mental health court, forensic diversion center
Bucks County officials are targeting the much anticipated start of their mental health court before the end of the year, but a critical component of it could be operating as soon as this summer. A plan is being developed to open a new forensic diversion and treatment center that would provide services to individuals referred by the courts. Bucks is the only county in the Philadelphia region that does not have a mental health court.