Weekly Update: November 17, 2020

COCHS Weekly Update: November 17, 2020

Medicaid Expansion

The Commonwealth Fund Podcast: With Medicaid Expansion, More Than “a Bus Pass and a Good Luck” for Formerly Incarcerated People
In a Commonwealth Fund podcast, Vikki Wachino, COCHS' CEO, and Rebekah Gee, the former Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health, discuss Medicaid Expansion's impact on justice involved people. States that have expanded Medicaid are trying to ensure that people leaving jail or prison are able to enroll in health coverage upon release. People who are incarcerated have complex health needs, and to make matters more complicated, prisons and jails have seen some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. Medicaid expansion offers some solutions.

The Crime Report: Medicaid Help for Ex-Inmates at Risk in Obamacare Case
Parole and probation systems in the U.S. do not effectively serve people with chronic health conditions, and building on Medicaid on the state level, rather than taking it away, would improve the health of people leaving prison and jail and would help reduce mass incarceration, says a new report from the Square One Project of Columbia University. Millions of Americans, many of whom have recently left jails and prisons, receive health care through Medicaid; 38 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid or passed ballot measures to do so. If the ACA is struck down, so will be the Medicaid expansion, and formerly incarcerated individuals will be left uninsured and unable to get the care they need.

USC Anneberg / Center for Health Journalism: Health Care on the Line: How the Affordable Care Act kept me out of prison
Chandra Bozelko a freelance writer shares her lived post-prison experience: When I came home from prison, I held in one hand prescriptions for four medications and, in the other, an order from the Court Support Services Division that I had to engage in “mental health treatment,” meaning psychotherapy, as a condition of my probation. I didn’t have a job so employer-based coverage was not an option. I could not afford even a minimal, subsidized premium. One of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion was my only option if I wanted to remain free. Indeed, if I hadn’t complied with the conditions of my probation to engage in psychotherapy because I couldn’t afford it, I could have been returned to custody without ever committing a crime.

Life After Incarceration

The New Yorker: What Makes the Difference Between Getting Out of Prison and Staying Out?
One critical part of transitioning is to help someone involved with the justice system get involved with the employment system. Another is housing programs: for an offender’s reëntry into the community usually involve a bewildering array of bureaucracies, and often result in former inmates being placed in halfway houses and homeless shelters that replicate the conditions of prison. Almost three-quarters of the released population are arrested again within three years. More than half the people coming out of state prison to New York City right now are being dumped in shelters. HUD defines people who are coming out of incarceration as not homeless, so no HUD-funded program can take them in. They have to be sleeping under a bridge before they can officially be classed as homeless.

COVID-19 Jail Mortality Study

Lyndon B Johnson School of Publics Affairs: COVID and Corrections (A Profile of COVID Deaths in Custody in Texas)
In this study from the University of Texas at Austin, it is reported that roughly 80 percent of Texas county jail inmates who have died after contracting COVID-19 were in pre-trial detention and had not been convicted of any crimes, according to a new report from the University of Texas at Austin. Based on Texas county jail populations data, the university researchers found that of those who died from COVID-19 in a Texas county jail, 11 out of 14, or nearly 80 percent, had not received a conviction.

COVID-19 PPE In Corrections

SCOTUS Blog: Court denies plea from Texas inmates to restore coronavirus safety measures pending appeal
The Supreme Court on Monday afternoon rejected a request from two inmates at high risk for complications from COVID-19 to reinstate an order by a federal district court that would require Texas prison officials to take basic safety precautions to combat the virus. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from that ruling, penning an 11-page opinion – joined by Justice Elena Kagan – in which she worried that Monday’s order “will lead to further, needless suffering” at a prison where 20 inmates have already died as a result of the virus.

The Denver Post: El Paso County jail inmates weren’t given masks prior to one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks
The more than 1,200 inmates inside the El Paso County jail on any given day were not provided masks until last week, when the jail became the site of Colorado’s second-largest coronavirus outbreak. Until last week, inmates generally were not provided masks unless they were walking through the facility or going to court. They were not provided masks to wear in their housing units unless the jail’s medical provider decided an inmate should have one.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Washington Post: Prisons and jails have become a ‘public health threat’ during the pandemic, advocates say
“A prison is now a public health threat,” said Armen Henderson, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami. He and other criminal justice reform advocates have called for massive reductions in incarceration because of the pandemic. They argue that measures such as distributing masks or allowing access to hand sanitizer do little to stop the spread of the virus in facilities where people live so close together. More than 173,000 inmates nationwide have contracted the coronavirus, and almost 1,300 have died, according to the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project.

MedPage Today: Should Inmates, Prison Staff be First In Line for COVID Vax?
Of the top 20 largest clusters of COVID-19 disease in the country, "19 are in prisons or in jails, with a growth rate that doubly outpaces the general population," according to one of the two resolutions considered in the AMA's Public Health reference committee. One resolution said to have "overwhelming" support that is under consideration during the American Medical Association virtual meeting. If passed, the AMA would urge appropriate vaccine distributors -- the federal government as well as vaccine manufacturers -- to put the penal system in the front of the lines to get the vaccine.

Kenosha News: More COVID-19 outbreaks in Wisconsin prisons top recent notable crime-related news
The total number of COVID-19 cases in the Wisconsin prison system broke 5,000 for the first time Thursday, and the active case count surpassed 2,000. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections reported 467 new cases in a single day Thursday, bringing the total number of prisoners infected since the pandemic began to 5,392. Of those, 2,063 cases were active.

AP: Over 100 active virus cases at West Virginia federal prison
There are 107 active cases of the coronavirus among inmates at a federal correctional institution in West Virginia. Among state-owned correctional facilities, the largest outbreak among inmates is at McDowell County Corrections, where there are 40 active cases, the state reported on Thursday. An additional 40 state correctional employees have the coronavirus overall across over two dozen facilities.

Chicago Tribune: Cook County sheriff gives coronavirus update at jail, asks community for help heading off next wave
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday pleaded with the community to follow public health guidelines for COVID-19 as cases are on the rise again across the state. “The majority of people who are positive at any given moment inside the jail are people who came into the jail positive,” Dart said. “There wasn’t this wild spread going on in the jail.” Dart was sued in federal court for allegedly failing to stop a “rapidly unfolding public health disaster” at the jail, but has stood by his office’s response. Among the steps Dart took were to open an off-site care facility for detainees, move inmates to single cells to improve social distancing, and enhance testing efforts.

KTSP Eyewitness News: DOC commissioner responds to family members' concerns about COVID spread in prisons
As COVID-19 cases increase across Minnesota, the disease is also spreading within the Department of Corrections’ facilities. Inmates at nine of the state's 11 prisons have now tested positive for the virus. Most notably, two inmates died in June after contracting COVID-19 while in custody at the Faribault facility. A third inmate died Nov. 1 after contracting the disease at the Stillwater prison. Eight people incarcerated at Minnesota Correctional Facilities have been hospitalized since the pandemic began.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

Public Policy Institute of California: What Can California Prisons Do When Wildfires Close In?
The pandemic raises concerns about which prisons can host fire evacuees. Incoming prisoners exposed to COVID-19 in their home facilities could endanger inmates in host prisons, particularly in medical facilities. Similarly, prisons with large coronavirus outbreaks make undesirable hosts. Three prisons, including one close to a high risk fire hazard severity zones near San Luis Obispo, are between 50 and 60 miles from Avenal, which has experienced the largest prison outbreak in the nation.

Plumas News: COVID cases at state prison in Susanville on sharp increase
Seemingly with every passing hour the number of inmates at Susanville’s High Desert State Prison continues to rise (as of 2:28 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, CDCR reports 260 inmates at the prison have been infected within the last 14 days). Richard Egan, a public information officer for the Lassen County COVID-19 Incident Command Team, said the team believes the outbreak may have originated with prison inmate transfers in September and October.

COVID-19 Staffing Shortages

Filter: In NYC Federal Jail, Medical Requests Go Unanswered for Months During Pandemic
At a New York City federal prison that’s recorded relatively few confirmed cases of COVID-19, medical requests made by incarcerated people during the pandemic topped the usual number by hundreds. Many went unaddressed for weeks, according to a federal watchdog report published on November 10. The failure to respond to the medical needs of people who are incarcerated appears to be borne of the facility’s dire medical staffing shortage. From the early days of the pandemic through September, the facility had a single doctor on staff while only half of Mid-Level Providers were available. Two new temporary medical workers joined the MDC-Brooklyn team in April, bringing the total number of employees up to 22. The authorized count is 30.

VT Digger: Prisons face staffing crisis
The Vermont Department of Corrections has plenty of jobs to fill. James Baker, interim corrections commissioner said the staffing crisis isn’t finding people to take those positions, it’s making sure once they do get hired that they stay. Currently, Baker told the panel Thursday that the department had 76 vacancies for jobs known as corrections officer I positions. That includes the 30 additional funded posts.

COVID-19 Correctional Officer Working Conditions

The Sun: Researcher aims to improve conditions for correctional workers
The U.S. Department of Justice has tapped the expertise of a UMass Lowell researcher to create a program to improve workplace health and safety for the country’s 500,000 correctional officers and staff, a population data show is at high risk for on-the-job injury, stress, obesity and premature death. Working in a correctional facility requires hypervigilance and carries a high risk of violence and exposure to disease, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The chronic stress often leads to poor eating and exercise habits, sleep disruption and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to El Ghaziri.

COVID-19 Prompting Early Release

The Morning Call: With COVID cases rising, Pennsylvania lawmakers call for release of terminally ill inmates
A serious coronavirus outbreak is unfolding inside the Pennsylvania prison facility for medically vulnerable inmates diagnosed with cancer or other health problems, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are urgently pushing for a release plan. Four inmates at the Laurel Highlands facility in Somerset are in the hospital, and the facility reported its first death of the pandemic last week. In total, one-fifth of the prison’s inmates and staff are positive. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections saw relatively low infection and death rates compared with other states between March and the end of September. But since Oct. 1, total infections have nearly doubled.

Use of Force

The Washington Post: A veteran died in a Florida jail. Two years later, video shows he was tased, left convulsing in a cell.
For nearly two years, the family of U.S. Army veteran Gregory Lloyd Edwards knew what his last moments in a Florida jail were like only from the reporting of a local newspaper. On Friday, Brevard County (FL) Sheriff Wayne Ivey published the video, but only after settling with the newspaper after it sued for the footage in July amid national reckoning about the use of force by police. The two-hour-long tape shows what led up to the moment Edwards, a decorated veteran who served in Kosovo and Iraq, was strapped in a chair for 16 minutes, as he seemed to struggle to breathe, his chest heaving and his restrained body convulsing. Although the video has no sound, Edwards seemed to be either yelling, coughing or gasping under the sheer white hood deputies put over his head to keep him from spitting. Jail staff periodically glanced through the windows of his cell but did not enter as Edwards struggled. Nearby, deputies focused on paperwork or chatted with each other.

Criminal Justice's Mental Health Initiatives

Capitol Weekly: Santa Clara judge creates ‘gold standard’ for mental health courts
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley refers to defendants in his courtroom as “clients” – an indication of the unusually informal and conversational tenor of the Behavioral Health Court he created more than two decades ago. Established in 1998, four years after he created a similar drug treatment court, Manley’s behavioral health court was the first such court in California, one of the first in the country, widely described as the “gold standard” for mental health courts nationally. His unusual – and highly successful – approach to keeping mentally ill defendants out of the criminal justice system has been adopted throughout California and in other states.


PR Newswire: MessageMedia and Marquis Software announce study that shows text messaging appointment reminders reduce community corrections no-shows by 43%
MessageMedia and Marquis Software, a platform for Offender Management Systems, announced the results of a research study designed to measure the impact of text messaging appointment reminders on individuals under community corrections supervision. The study found using text messaging to send appointment reminders in advance of scheduled meetings reduced no-shows for individuals by as much as 43% when a reminder was sent the day before the scheduled meeting. One key capability of the platform is its ability to automate the coordination and scheduling of community supervision appointments.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Vendors

Nashville Post: CoreCivic execs: Biden administration will still need private prisons
During his presidential campaign, Joe Biden committed to ending the federal government’s use of private prisons. But despite Biden’s commitment to end the use of private prisons, CoreCivic execs are still feeling confident. They pointed out that the federal government, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has normally increased funding for those organizations or at least held it stable.

The CT Mirror: DOC emails show officials were aware of prison health care problems years before taking over from UConn
A series of emails recently released in a federal lawsuit make clear Department of Correction officials were aware of the shortcomings in the state’s prison health care system in April 2016, two years before the DOC took over inmate health care from UConn’s Correctional Managed Health Care. Top prison officials were so concerned about the shortcomings, the emails show, they privately assembled a team to improve the quality of care inmates were receiving from UConn, which at that point was nearly two decades into a no-bid contract with the DOC to provide those services. The goal of this special request, according to the DOC, was “to address some of the problems with CMHC care.”

Bakersfield.com: After COVID-19 outbreak subsides at Mesa Verde, ICE seeks to remove court restrictions
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is seeking to remove a court order that was issued after more than half of the detainees at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center contracted coronavirus in August. However, lawyers representing the detainees in a class action lawsuit worry that allowing the court order to expire could return the immigrant detention facility to the conditions that allowed the virus to spread so rapidly. “It just seems abundantly clear to us that any time we leave the protection of people in Mesa Verde to the discretion of ICE and GEO, ICE and GEO will exercise their discretion in a way that puts people in serious danger,” said Bree Bernwanger, a staff attorney for Lawyer’s Committee For Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the legal groups representing detainees.

Naples Daily News: Naples Jail Center inmate did not receive proper treatment for diabetes before death
A lawsuit filed in the case of an inmate from the Naples Jail Center who died last year claims the man was not provided with proper medication for his diabetes leading to his death. During the two weeks the man spent in jail, he repeatedly told Armor medical staff and employees his blood sugar levels were too high and that he needed medical attention, according to the lawsuit. The Armor staff either failed to act or acted in a manner that was medically insufficient and contrary to the company’s own internal policy regarding managing a diabetic patient, the lawsuit alleges.

Jackson Free Press: Coronavirus Outbreak Identified at Mississippi Private Prison
Officials have identified a coronavirus outbreak at a prison in the Mississippi Delta in which more than 50 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Raman Singh is the medical director for the correction department's medical provider, VitalCore Health Strategies. He said three inmates in the prison's 959-inmate population became symptomatic last week and tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. The facility is operated by private prison management group Management & Training Corporation of Centerville, Utah. Marshall County borders the Mississippi-Tennessee state line and the greater Memphis metropolitan area.