Weekly Update: January 4, 2022

COCHS Weekly Update: January 04, 2022

Highlighted Stories

CMS: New Medicaid Option Promotes Enhanced Mental Health, Substance Use Crisis Care
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is working with states to promote access to Medicaid services for people with mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) crises. Authorized under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP), states have a new option for supporting community-based mobile crisis intervention services for individuals with Medicaid.

Jama: Association of Incarceration With Mortality by Race From a National Longitudinal Cohort Study
In this cohort study of 7974 individuals who were followed up from 1979 to 2018, incarceration was associated with a 65% higher mortality rate among Black participants. Among non-Black participants, incarceration was not associated with mortality. These findings suggest that racial disparities in the association of incarceration with mortality—as well as in rates of exposure to incarceration—may partially explain the lower life expectancy of the non-Hispanic Black population in the US.

Politico: Biden Justice Department reverses on returning federal convicts on home detention to prison
Under intense pressure from criminal justice reform advocates, the Justice Department has reversed a Trump-era legal opinion that could have required several thousand federal convicts to return to prison from home confinement if the Biden administration declares an end to the pandemic-related national emergency. According to the Bureau of Prisons, about 36,000 federal inmates were released early due to the pandemic, largely based on authority Congress included in the CARES Act passed in March 2020. Most have finished serving their sentences, but about 4,500 faced the threat of being returned to prison when the pandemic emergency terminates.

COVID-19 in Corrections

dcist: COVID-19 Cases Are Surging At The D.C. Jail
The D.C. Jail has seen a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases over the last week, going from one recorded case among detained residents last to at least 117 in just one week later. And at least 62 Department of Corrections staff are out after testing positive for COVID-19, according to data from DC Health. The rise in cases at the jail comes as the entire D.C. region is shattering records for new cases.

Adirondack Daily Enterprise: CO union: Suspend prison visitations to curb COVID
Union leaders representing state corrections officers want the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to suspend visitation, as New York coronavirus infections shattered records Wednesday for the fifth time this week. The number of active COVID-19 cases within state prisons has increased more than 35% since Dec. 10, with 442 active virus cases in prisons as of Dec. 10 and 596 active cases.

Forbes: The Women’s Federal Prison Camp At Alderson In Middle Of COVID-19 Outbreak
In FPC Alderson, an all women's minimum security prison camp in West Virginia, COVID cases are spiking. Of the 665 female inmates at the institution, 1o8 have active COVID cases (December 23, 2022) and 43 have recently recovered ... over 20% are currently or recently infected. There are women there who are eligible to be placed on CARES Act home confinement, but they are languishing there as the pandemic’s Omicron variant rips through the facility.

News Tribune: California prisons fight virus outbreaks amid staff concerns
With a new and more infectious coronavirus variant sweeping California, attorneys representing inmates say violations of health orders by prison staff risk a repeat of the outbreaks that killed dozens in the first year of the pandemic. But large percentages of employees who are required to be tested twice weekly aren't doing so, “and most of those workers face no consequences,” inmates' attorneys said in a recent court filing, citing figures that officials now say are suspect.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Man is 16th to die from COVID-19 at Fort Worth prison; cases spike at women’s facility
A man incarcerated at a federal prison in Fort Worth died on Dec. 13 from COVID-19, the Bureau of Prisons said in a press release. He is the 16th man to die from COVID-19 at FMC Fort Worth, according to BOP data. At the prison 10 incarcerated men and seven BOP staffers had confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday. According to BOP data, 1,190 of the 1,243 men incarcerated at the prison have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

COVID-19 Vaccination in Corrections

VT Digger: 57% of eligible incarcerated individuals get Covid-19 booster so far this month
About 57% of Vermont’s incarcerated population eligible for a Covid-19 booster shot have received one since the state Department of Corrections rolled out its program early this month, according to the latest available numbers.

PublicCola: As Omicron Cases Surge, King County Jail Vaccination Rate Reaches New High
Nine months into the campaign to vaccinate people held in King County’s three detention centers, jail health staff have fully vaccinated more than 2,000 people. The effort shows no signs of abating. But with cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus surging in Seattle and King County, the risk of serious outbreaks among jail inmates and staff is also far from over.

AP: Nevada axes vaccine rule for prison staff, college students
Nevada lawmakers on Tuesday overruled two vaccination mandates passed as emergency measures by the state Board of Health earlier this year, lifting requirements on college students and state health and prison workers.


The News Motion: Federal government approves California’s Medicaid overhaul
The U.S. government has approved California’s overhaul of the nation’s largest insurance program for low-income and disabled residents. The goal of the new approach is to prioritize prevention and address underlying societal conditions. Medicaid services will now for the first time formally include substance abuse treatment, including short-term residential treatment when needed. California expects approval from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services early next year to expand services for adults and youth involved in the criminal justice system.

Channel 6 News: Biden administration revokes Georgia Medicaid work requirements
Georgia will not be allowed to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries or charge them premiums, the Biden administration announced Thursday. In a letter to the state dated Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it was withdrawing approval of the work requirement policy and proposal to charge premiums, which was granted in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Boston Globe: Health care for formerly incarcerated people helps everyone
The editorial board of the Boston Globe writes: One of the small-scale items that was latched onto Build Back Better is the Medicaid Reentry Act. The need for the Medicaid Reentry Act as it currently stands is urgent: When people are released from prison, they face a much greater risk of experiencing serious health issues or dying than the general population. That’s in part because people who are incarcerated are already more likely to suffer from health problems, ranging from diabetes to mental illness to substance use disorder. Upon release from prison, receivint medical care or treatment is not easy. In some cases, people will lose access to potentially life-saving medication altogether.

Obstacles to Reentry

New York Times: What It’s Like to Leave Prison During a Pandemic
In the fall of 2020, as the coronavirus spread quickly through prison populations, many states, including New York and New Jersey, released people early in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. New York State has released at least 3,900 people since the beginning of the pandemic. New Jersey released some 5,300 early. The path from an open cell door to home has always had its obstacles. But for most people, piecing together a patchwork safety net is a daunting task.

Denver Post: Older people released from Colorado prisons struggle with health insurance, housing, study finds
People who are released from prison in Colorado face extra hurdles to finding both housing and health insurance. In July, state legislators passed a law aimed at addressing some of those hurdles and requiring the state’s Commission on Aging to study the problems. People who have been incarcerated for decades may not have enough work credit to qualify for premium-free Medicare even if they worked in prison; release from prison does not trigger a special enrollment period so some must wait months to sign up; and many prisoners miss the brief window to sign up for Medicare around their 65th birthday and go on to face penalties.

Prison Policy Initiative: The positive impacts of family contact for incarcerated people and their families
The positive effects of visitation have been well-known for decades — particularly when it comes to reducing recidivism. A 1972 study on visitation that followed 843 people on parole from California prisons found that those who had no visitors during their incarceration were six times more likely to be reincarcerated than people with three or more visitors.

Rikers Island

New York Times: Behind the Violence at Rikers, Decades of Mismanagement and Dysfunction
The groundwork for the violence and disorder on Rikers was laid over the years by successive mayoral administrations, which allowed power to shift to lower-level wardens and the guards’ union and then to incarcerated gang members themselves. For years, mayors and correction commissioners have allowed jail managers to place the least experienced officers in charge of detainee dorms and cells. The failures are especially stark given the vast sums the city has spent on the Correction Department. At an annual cost to taxpayers of more than $400,000 per inmate — more than six times the average in the nation’s other biggest cities.


Philadelphia Inquirer: 4 Philly prisoners died in two weeks, capping a tumultuous and deadly year
Four men who had been incarcerated in Philadelphia jails died over the last two weeks, raising the death toll to 18 people this year. It is the highest mortality rate in recent memory at city jail facilities that have been beset during the pandemic by assaults, riots, severe staff shortages, a federal lawsuit, and a grand jury investigation. The city’s jail mortality rate is now more than double the most recent national average, recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.


Courthouse News Service: Alabama judge orders sweeping reforms to protect prisoners’ mental health
A federal judge required Alabama prison officials to implement sweeping reforms to address the “sky-high rates of suicidality” and “scarce mental-health resources” plaguing the state’s correctional facilities. Among the official policies worsening the problem were the state’s refusal to identify vulnerable prisoners, failure to provide individualized treatment plans for prisoners, lack of therapy treatments, failure to offer out-of-cell time and hospital care to prisoners, and punitive approach to disciplining mentally ill prisoners.

AL.com: Attorneys for Alabama prison inmates praise order calling for mental health changes
Attorneys for inmates praised a sweeping ruling issued Monday by a federal judge that will require Alabama’s prison system to make changes in inmate mental health care. “As Judge Thompson reminds all Alabamians, once our state chooses to put a person in prison the state must provide a safe environment and adequate mental health care. The state has failed to do so. Too many individuals have died because of the state’s failures,” said James Tucker, director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program.

Washington Post: Which Bank Will Dare to Finance Alabama’s Prisons?
Alabama just won’t give up on selling bonds to finance prison projects. In April, Barclays Plc backed out as lead underwriter of a large municipal-bond deal for two Alabama prisons owned by CoreCivic Inc., a giant in the private-prison industry. It really had no excuse for the drama: The bank had previously pledged to no longer provide new financing to such companies and seemed to try to use the state’s role as a workaround.

AL.com: North Alabama jail inmate who couldn’t stand or eat died from inadequate and negligent medical care, lawsuit claims
The family of a former inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against the Marshall County sheriff, the jail administrator and others claiming inadequate medical care ultimately led to his death. Black as a child was diagnosed with Wegener’s Disease and as a result was a kidney transplant recipient who was immunocompromised and required to take multiple medications to treat his medical condition. The lawsuit said he also had “significant mental and cognitive deficits as well as learning disabilities.”

Juvenile Incarceration

CT Insider: Federal investigators: Conditions at youth prison violate children’s constitutional rights
Two years after opening an investigation into the conditions of confinement at Manson Youth Institution, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that there is “reasonable cause” to believe that the Cheshire youth prison’s isolation practices and “inadequate mental health services” put children incarcerated there at risk of serious harm.

Criminal Justice Reform

Washington Post: The White DA, the Black ex-mayor and a harsh debate on crime
When Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s liberal district attorney, was asked this month about the city’s crime surge that includes an unprecedented 550 homicides this year, he appeared to play it down. Krasner, who is White, has been an ally of Black leaders pushing for changes to the criminal justice system. Michael Nutter, a former Philadelphia mayor who is African American, erupted at Krasner, accusing him of dismissing the pain of Black residents who suffer from the violence while purporting to support them.

Washington Post: The Judge Who Keeps People Out of Jail
Drug and alcohol treatment courts have existed for more than 30 years and are conventionally heralded as the single most successful intervention for diverting people with addictions away from the criminal justice system. But the drug court model, once widely viewed as a progressive alternative to jail, is increasingly criticized for widening the net of social control. Judge Jason Lidyard court diverges from many of his peers’. He does not expect his clients to abstain from using — in fact, he assumes the contrary.

Use of Force in Criminal Justice

New York Times: After 4 Killings, ‘Officer of the Year’ Is Still on the Job
In November 2008, Pennsylvania Trooper Jay Splain was honored as a hero, the police officer of the year. Trooper Splain, 41, is a patrol officer who works in largely rural swaths of Pennsylvania, where the state police rarely kill anyone. During his time on the force, he has been responsible for four of the nine fatal shootings by troopers in the three counties where they occurred. All four who died were troubled, struggling with drugs, and mental illness. In two cases, family members had called the police for help because their relatives had threatened to kill themselves.

New York Times: How Paid Experts Help Exonerate Police After Deaths in Custody
When lawyers were preparing to defend against a lawsuit over a death in police custody in Fresno, Calif., they knew whom to call. Dr. Gary Vilke has established himself as a leading expert witness by repeatedly asserting that police techniques such as facedown restraints, stun gun shocks and some neck holds did not kill people.

US News & World Report: Top Women's Prison Boss Charged in Attack by Guards
A “brutal” attack on inmates by guards at New Jersey's only women's prison has resulted in misconduct and other charges for the prison's top official, the state's acting attorney general reported. The U.S. Justice Department also entered into a consent agreement with the state stemming from other longstanding troubles at the prison, namely that officials there did not protect inmates' constitutional rights by failing to protect them from sexual abuse.

Washington Post: A Black teen died in custody while being restrained facedown. Now the prone position is again under fire.
After a Kansas medical examiner ruled the death of an unarmed Black teenager in law enforcement custody a homicide Monday, attention has turned once again to a controversial restraint technique that also raised questions after George Floyd’s murder. Cedric Lofton, 17, died Sept. 26 in Wichita. While in custody at a juvenile detention center, Lofton’s ankles were placed in shackles, his wrists were handcuffed behind his back, and officers rolled him onto his chest — what’s known as the prone position.

New York Times: Death of 17-Year-Old in Custody in Kansas Is Ruled a Homicide
The death of a teenager who lost consciousness after he was handcuffed by personnel at a county juvenile center in Wichita, Kan., while lying facedown was a homicide, according to a Kansas medical examiner.

New York Times: He Went to Jail on Minor Charges. He Left in a Coma.
Jayshawn Boyd, a 22-year-old with schizophrenia, does not remember the brutal jail attack that left him in a coma for more than two months. In surveillance video of the assault shared last month on social media, seven men in a jail day room are shown knocking Mr. Boyd to the floor and stomping his head. One by one, they return to pummel him with their fists, a microwave, a water cooler, a broom and an industrial bucket filled with bleach.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Washington Post: Stepping down after 16 years, Alexandria sheriff laments mental health crisis in jails
As Sheriff Dana Lawhorne retires from his 16-year run as the sheriff in the Northern Virginia city, he said all those efforts are hamstrung by a lack of resources for people leaving the high-profile jail, in particular for those with serious mental health issues. “We do the best we can with what we have here. But this is a state and national crisis, in my opinion, that needs more attention from our state and national leaders,” the 64-year-old said.

US News & World Report: Jail Inmates Sue to Get Mental Health Treatment
Three jail inmates have filed a class-action lawsuit over delays in getting treatment to restore their mental competency. The lawsuit was filed against the South Dakota Human Services Center in federal court. The inmates contend they’ve been ordered to go to the center to restore their mental competency earlier this year but they still haven’t been sent to the facility and remain in jail.

Mercury News: Contra Costa jail health workers failed to act on obvious warning signs before woman's suicide
A woman who fashioned a noose out of a jacket and died of suicide inside a jail bathroom had all but announced her intentions during an intake interview, according to a recent federal lawsuit that claims medical staff were liable for not recommending she be placed in a safety cell. The lawsuit alleges that a nurse determined Barraza had a “very high” risk of suicide, and that Barraza was crying during an intake interview when she admitted to having suicidal thoughts. The lawsuit names the nurse and mental health specialist as defendants.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

NC Health News: Increasing MAT use in carceral facilities could save lives, but faces barriers
Durham County’s jail is one of just a few in the state that provides medication-assisted treatment, a path to saving lives and reducing recidivism. Major Elijah Bazemore started working at the Durham County Sheriff’s office on April 11, 1988. Since then, there’s been a “paradigm shift,” he said. He’s been helping people detained at the Durham County Detention Center do just that through the jail’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, where he is the jail’s program administrator.

Academic Correctional Initiatives

Texas LBJ School: Criminal Justice Policy Lab to Focus on Correctional Oversight and Improved Conditions in Prisons and Jails Nationwide
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin has established a national policy resource center working to ensure the safe and humane treatment of people in custody. The Prison and Jail Innovation Lab (PJIL) serves as a bridge between academic research, practical experience and policy on pressing matters related to independent correctional oversight and conditions of confinement.

University of Pennsylvania Law Review: A Prosecutorial Solution to the Criminalization of Homelessness
More than one-third of the 580,000 homeless people in the United States are unsheltered. This population includes those who sleep on the street, in cars, in abandoned buildings, and in other places not intended for human housing. Prosecuting homeless individuals poses a particular risk. It undermines their ability to gain and maintain employment, the surest way out of poverty.

Data & Statistics

BJS: Census of State and Federal Adult Correctional Facilities, 2019 – Statistical Tables
This report presents data collected from state, federal, and private adult correctional facilities on the characteristics of facilities by type, operator, size, physical security level, capacity, court orders, and programs. Data on the prison custody population is presented for demographic characteristics, sentence length, and custody security level by facility type and operator.

BJS: Federal Prisoner Statistics Collected under the First Step Act, 2021
This is the third report as required under the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA; P.L. 115-391). It includes data on federal prisoners provided to BJS by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for calendar year 2020. Under the FSA, BJS is required to report on selected characteristics of persons in prison, including marital, veteran, citizenship, and English-speaking status; education levels; medical conditions; and participation in treatment programs.

BJS: Employment of Persons Released from Federal Prison in 2010
This report fulfills a congressional mandate in the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act, part of the 2019 Defense Reauthorization Act (P.L. 116–92, Title XI, Subtitle B, Section 1124). Congress tasked BJS and the U.S. Census Bureau with reporting on post-prison employment of persons released from federal prison.

Prison Contractors

NWF Daily News: 'Families die by a thousand cuts.' Companies like JPay make big bucks billing Florida inmates for essentials
The Florida Department of Corrections defends its decision to turn to a company called JPay to digitize inmate mail by arguing the delivery system is crucial to preventing the flow of dangerous contraband like fentanyl into its 143 state prison facilities. Left unsaid is that JPay controlling the flow of mail to 80,000 Florida inmates is likely to greatly enhance company profits with dollars spent by inmates and their loved ones, a segment of the population often hard-pressed to make ends meet.

Private Prisons

Daily Post: New Mexico Delegation Calls For Increased Oversight At CoreCivic Detention Facility In Torrance County After Asylum Seekers Face Barriers To Legal Representation
U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) and Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) are calling on U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to increase oversight on CoreCivic’s management of the Torrance County Detention Facility (Torrance) in Estancia, after Haitian asylum seekers have faced significant barriers to legal counsel.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Santa Fe New Mexican: Nonprofit wins settlement on New Mexico prison inmates' health records
A Dec. 10 agreement between Prison Legal News — a Florida-based nonprofit monthly magazine focused on prisoners’ rights — and the state Department of Corrections requires the next prison medical care contract include a clause requiring the contractor “comply with all provisions of applicable New Mexico law,” including public records laws. It could hypothetically put an end to an ongoing game of tag that has sent record seekers ping-ponging between the Corrections Department — which routinely says it doesn’t have the records — and the medical care companies, which insist they aren’t subject to public records laws.

WINK: Another father shares story of son’s jail death, says Armor Health is responsible
Roger Macauley says his son died in jail and that the people in charge of their sons’ health didn’t care. Roger Macauley says his son, Timothy Kusma, was arrested in March of 2019 for driving with a suspended license. While he was at the Naples Jail Center, he collapsed then died at the hospital. Macauley’s lawsuit says that during the two weeks Kusma spent in jail, he begged for Armor Correctional Health doctors and nurses to give him the right insulin to help control his blood sugar.