COCHS Weekly Update: June 15, 2021
Hawaii Public Radio: COVID-19 Outbreaks at Incarceration Facilities Prompt Class Action Lawsuit
Poor conditions within prisons and jails are the target of a new class action lawsuit against the state. The lawsuit alleges that unsafe conditions within incarceration facilities contributed to the spread of the coronavirus among inmates and staff. The lawsuit comes on the heels of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Hawai'i Community Correctional Facility (HCCC). Nearly half of the people in Hawaii custody have contracted the virus, and five out of nine facilities have experienced “uncontrolled outbreaks,” resulting in at least nine deaths. Hawai'i County Mayor Mitch Roth was a vocal opponent of early release while he served as the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney and advocates increasing the design capacity of HCCC. In response, Dan Mistak, acting president of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services explains that: "A larger facility doesn't do anything besides put more beds in and much like in the field of dreams, if you build it, they will come." Listen to the recording of Mayor Roth's and Dan Mistak's comments.
Truthout: Laws Criminalizing HIV Are Obstructing Efforts to End the AIDS Epidemic
HIV criminalization may sound like a thing of the past, but 32 states across the country still have laws on the books designed to punish people who have tested positive for HIV by creating or enhancing criminal penalties for various behaviors. In multiple states, people who have tested positive for HIV could face years in prison and even be registered as a sex offender if a former sexual partner accuses them of failing to disclose their status
NEJM: Physician–Public Defender Collaboration — A New Medical–Legal Partnership
Involvement in the criminal justice system is one of the most fundamental upstream determinants of health. Fortunately, a model for helping patients navigate legal issues that negatively affect their health does exist in medicine: the medical–legal partnership (MLP). First created in the early 1990s, MLPs entail embedding civil legal aid experts in the health care team in order to identify lapses in protection of patients’ civil rights and engage health care providers in appropriate interventions. Recognizing that the knowledge and tools to as-sess patients’ social environments were not consistently available within traditional health system models, many health systems have welcomed MLPs and the formation of interdisciplinary care teams.
Washington Post: Federal prisoners hold $100 million in government-run accounts, shielded from some criminal scrutiny and debt collection
Federal inmate accounts run by the Bureau of Prisons are not subject to the criminal and regulatory scrutiny that those of non-incarcerated Americans face. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, everyday account holders who move more than $10,000 in cash can be flagged with a suspicious activity report, potentially prompting an investigation, but that law does not apply to the Bureau of Prisons because even with $100 million in accounts, the agency is not considered a financial institution. The agency also does not run its bank transactions through a Treasury Department screening program meant to flag outstanding debts.
COVID-19 Vaccinations in Criminal Justice
Brennan Center for Justice: Covid-19 and the Struggle for Health Behind Bars
The Centers for Disease Control and state health departments are currently engaged in carceral settings, but their gaze will soon shift once vaccines have been delivered and rates of Covid-19 abate. We must keep their focus there, to learn and report on the truth of health care access, adequacy, and outcomes just as they do for the rest of our society. Low acceptance rates among correctional staff created a surplus of available vaccine in many facilities, enabling even more detained people to become vaccinated. By March and April, the low vaccination rate among correctional staff was a national problem, and many prisons, jails, and detention centers were struggling to exceed a vaccination rate of 40 percent among staff, while achieving vaccination rates over 60 percent among detained people.
Washington Post: D.C. region tries to boost coronavirus vaccine uptake among law enforcement
As the Washington region’s coronavirus vaccination efforts continue, public health officials are homing in on segments of the population slow to get the shot — such as law enforcement officers. While no comprehensive surveying has been done in the region, Virginia officials say less than half of State Police troopers are vaccinated and about 50 percent of corrections officers in the state have been vaccinated. Large police departments have slightly better rates, with 58 percent of officers vaccinated in the District and 65 percent vaccinated in Prince George’s County.
KUNC: Colorado Offered Prison Staff $500 To Boost COVID Vaccinations Two Months Ago. Around 40% Remain Unpoked
On March 29, CDOC announced a $500 incentive for staff who already have or would get fully inoculated. It’s about a tenth of the average monthly salary at most facilities. works primarily in the infirmary at the Denver Reception Diagnostic Center, a smaller-capacity, mostly temporary stay facility. Sgt. Eric Olsen got the vaccine because he trusted the science. But the vast majority of his colleagues have not been as eager. “A lot of people were thinking that there's not enough reward for the risk of the unknown,” he said. “I think that corrections mirrors a lot of the society, so just like in regular society, a lot of people have their doubts and have their trepidations about (the vaccine).”
COVID-19 and The Courts
The Lens: New Orleans judges continued to issue warrants for failure to appear during pandemic despite court closures, health risks
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic New Orleans criminal and municipal court judges continued to issue warrants to have defendants arrested for failing to appear for court dates — despite the increased health risks associated with being put in jail and the fact that there was often confusion about whether or not court was even open. “Judges did this during a health pandemic while issuing contradictory orders whether the court was closed or open, and with people oftentimes not knowing whether they even had a court date or not,” said Simone Levine, executive director of Court Watch NOLA.
Criminal Justice Reform
New York Times: Supreme Court Rejects Sentence Reductions for Minor Crack Offenses
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that the First Step Act, the bipartisan 2018 law that overhauled aspects of the criminal justice system, did not require new sentences for some low-level drug offenders. Though all of the justices agreed on the bottom line, the decision nonetheless featured a sharp disagreement about the background of a 1986 law that had subjected drug dealers selling crack cocaine to the same sentences as ones selling 100 times as much powder cocaine. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a concurring opinion accusing the majority of including “an unnecessary, incomplete and sanitized history” of the law, one she said had imposed disproportionately harsh sentences on Black offenders.
Washington Post: Supreme Court limits federal law requiring enhanced sentences for repeat offenders
The Supreme Court on Thursday limited the scope of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes enhanced sentences on repeat offenders with a past of violent felonies. It was the court’s latest examination of the 1984 law, often criticized for vague wording, and it often splits the justices. Thursday’s 5-to-4 decision was no exception. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch joined the court’s three liberals to limit the reach of the law, which mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for possessing a gun if the person has been convicted of three or more violent felonies.
Independent: The ex-cop trying to bring down LA’s ruthless police gangs: ‘It’s absolutely crazy but it exists’
A California politician who once served as a hands-on policeman is spearheading efforts to reform law enforcement in the state – by banning everything from deadly chokeholds and restraints, to the officers’ own gangs that have been accused of intimidation and murder.Mike Gipson, an assembly member whose district includes parts of south Los Angeles and the city of Compton, says it is time for a new vision of police in the nation’s most populous state, and where between 2013 and 2021, at least 1,402 people were killed by officers.
Western Slope Now: Jails emptied in the pandemic. Should they stay that way?
The pandemic underscored what reform advocates have been saying for years: Cramped and filthy jails are the wrong place for most people who have been arrested. The pandemic forced a rapid departure from the status quo and became something of a proof of concept for alternatives to incarceration. In many places, though, the push to clear out jails and rethink incarceration has been short-lived. Momentum for long-lasting change is wavering in the face of a rise in crime — including shootings and other violence — after several years at or near historic lows. Police leaders and union officials in places like New York City and Philadelphia have blamed policies freeing people from jail, though there is little evidence that people on release are behind the surge of new crimes.
PIX 11: Layleen Polanco’s sister says de Blasio has broken promise to end solitary confinement
Two years after a 27-year-old woman died in a Rikers Island jail cell, relatives marched in Manhattan on Monday and demanded an end to solitary confinement in New York’s jails. Layleen Polanco’s family was joined by relatives of Kalief Browder, a young Bronx man who killed himself just over six years ago after he was held in Rikers for years. Melania Brown, Polanco’s sister, and Akeem Browder carried a coffin past courthouses. Polanco, who had health issues, couldn’t afford a $500 bail. Browder, charged with stealing a backpack, couldn’t make bail either. He spent two years in solitary confinement and three years at Rikers in total.
Healthcare Litigation in Corrections
NM Political Reporter: A group of inmates sue state and Corrections Department over medical grievance system
The 18 prisoners filed a lawsuit last month in state district court against the state, the New Mexico Corrections Department and members of its leadership including Corrections Department Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero alleging that a corrupt medical grievance system ignores inmates’ health problems, including after they begin to deteriorate and that officers retaliate against the inmates for filing medical grievances and talking to attorneys. Nine of the inmates involved in the suit developed osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, or sepsis, a life-threatening condition that results from an infection, according to the complaint.
Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health
The Colorado Sun: Colorado’s failure to address severe mental illness is a human disaster
In an op-ed, Colorado state Representative Judy Amabile writes: People wait in our jails for treatment, getting sicker and less sane. In fact, individuals with severe mental illness are four times more likely to be incarcerated than treated. In just the last few weeks, my office has heard from jail staff about a young man with schizophrenia who was arrested for smoking pot in public. His panic while being placed under arrest resulted in him receiving more charges. He’s been sitting in solitary confinement for 54 days and counting. His mental health condition is getting worse.
Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice
Austin American Statesman: County needs a trauma-informed facility for female inmates
In an op-ed, Travis County Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion, writes: On Tuesday, June 15, the Travis County Commissioners Court will vote on whether or not to approve a $4.3 million contract for design services for the proposed Travis County Trauma Informed Women's Facility Project. The purpose of this project is not to increase incarceration capacity; rather it is to replace outdated and inefficient facilities and to construct a holistic facility that will house female inmates in one building.
KFDA: Potter County Detention Center plans to build a pod for inmates with mental health illness
The Potter County Detention Center (TX) is planning to expand. The jail wants to add a pod specially dedicated to inmates dealing with mental health. During the pandemic, the jail has been able to keep the number of inmates low. According to Sheriff Thomas those numbers have started to go back up, and adding the new pod will allow the jail to free bed space. “We have a lot of mental health consumers within our jail so this will give us a pod where we can put everybody in one location rather than spreading around the jail,” said Sheriff Thomas.
Correctional Health Care Vendors and Private Prisons
The Advocate: After apparent suicide at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, advocates seek oversight
After a man died by apparent suicide while detained at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition is again calling for accountability from public officials as the jail death rate remains well above the national average. Coalition members demanded the removal of CorrectHealth, the embattled private company in charge of jail medical care, which is already facing several lawsuits after inmate deaths. They also sought more robust mental health services and suicide prevention policies. City officials announced their decision last year to solicit new contract proposals for the jail medical program. That process is now underway and could result in CorrectHealth being removed in the near future.
AP: 4 inmates may have contracted tuberculosis in Georgia prison
At least four inmates may have contracted tuberculosis at a state prison run by CoreCivic in south Georgia. The Georgia Department of Public Health tells WMAZ-TV that one case has been confirmed and three are suspected at Wheeler Correctional Facility in Alamo. Wheeler has had one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the state prison system, with 172 inmates infected by the virus and 13 who have died.
Coloradoan: Lawsuit alleges Colorado Springs man was denied medical care by Larimer County Jail staff
A Colorado Springs man filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Larimer County jail officials alleging he was injured by his cellmate and then denied appropriate medical care last year. The lawsuit claims that Armor Correctional Health Services — the medical care service provider for the jail — “had an obligation” to get Napier an off-site surgical consult, and/or begin the process to get Napier the recommended consult. But instead, the jail’s medical staff “knowingly left Mr. Napier in his cell, bleeding from his mouth, in agony, unable to sleep and constantly drinking his own blood for four days,” according to court documents.