Weekly Update: May 3, 2022

COCHS Weekly Update: May 03, 2022

Highlighted Stories

Politico: Trump’s criminal justice reform bill becomes persona non grata among GOPers
When Donald Trump signed a long-sought criminal justice reform measure into law in 2018, he had visions of using the legislation to make major inroads with Black and moderate swing voters. The First Step Act was not just hailed as a rare bipartisan achievement for the 45th president but as the beginning of a major shift in GOP politics, one that would move the party past the 1980s tough-on-crime mindset to a focus on rehabilitation, racial fairness and second chances. Three-and-a-half years later, few Republicans — Trump included — seem not at all interested in talking about it. But despite these changing political winds, reform advocates still say they are optimistic that Congress will pass the EQUAL Act, which would end federal sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine offenses.

New York Times: Drug Sentencing Bill Is in Limbo as Midterm Politics Paralyze Congress
The Equal Act would appear to be a slam dunk even in a badly divided Congress. The legislation, which aims to end a longstanding racial disparity in federal prison sentences for drug possession, passed the House overwhelmingly last year, with more than 360 votes. Yet with control of Congress at stake and Republicans weaponizing a law-and-order message against Democrats in their midterm election campaigns, the fate of the measure is in doubt.

The Hill: We can’t improve minority health without addressing incarceration
Evie Lopoo at Columbia University Justice Lab’s Square One Project, writes: The House created Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Caucus in 2021, which is designed to crowdsource ways in which Congress and the federal government can help facilitate social determinant interventions. But, sadly, its charter doesn’t even include incarceration as a social determinant of health. Incarceration disproportionately affects people of color, driving a wedge in health disparities by race. Black and Latino people are respectively five and 1.3 times more likely to be in prison than white people. Life expectancy is more than four years lower than the national average in majority-Black neighborhoods.

NPR: Justice Department works to curb racial bias in deciding who's released from prison
The Justice Department is moving to reduce racial disparities in a tool it uses to assess a prisoner's risk of a return to crime, after scholars and justice advocates pressed for change. The tool, known as Pattern, continues to overestimate the number of Black women who will engage in recidivism, compared to white women in prison. And in its latest effort to overhaul the troubled risk assessment algorithm, the Justice Department said it is still unable to resolve other racial disparities.

Webinars & Podcasts

CSG: How to Make Justice Count: Introducing Consensus-Driven Metrics for Criminal Justice Data
Criminal justice policymakers are often forced to make crucial decisions using limited or outdated criminal justice data. Accurate, accessible, and actionable data is essential to building stronger and safer communities. That’s why Justice Counts is empowering data-driven decision-making today and planning for better criminal justice data tomorrow. This national event on May 4, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. ET will mark a critical step forward in that effort: introducing the first set of Justice Counts metrics.

BJA: Justice Matters Podcast
The official podcast of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), Justice Matters features federal leaders, criminal justice professionals, program experts, and community-based partners -- all aiming to address criminal justice challenges and create safer communities.

Justice Clearinghouse: De-Escalation: Strategies, Impacts, and Implications for Criminal Justice
Though de-escalation is considered a cornerstone of policing, there is little research on how it is defined, applications in the field, and the impact of de-escalation training on officer behavior. The Tempe (AZ) Smart Policing Initiative (SPI) project attempted to fill this gap through the development, delivery, and evaluation of a customized de-escalation training program for sworn field personnel. The curriculum, rooted heavily in the local expertise of peer-nominated Top De-escalators, addresses topics ranging from pre-shift health and wellness to scene management: Tue, Jun 14th, 2022 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET

Opioid Epidemic

US News & World Report: California Inmate Overdoses Plummet Under Drug Program
The spiraling number of overdose deaths and hospitalizations among California prison inmates fell dramatically during the first two years of a program that uses prescribed drugs to treat more incarcerated addicts than any such program in the country. The rate of overdose deaths dropped 58% after the program began in 2020. Hospitalizations were 48% lower among those receiving the anti-craving drugs than among those waiting to begin treatment. The promising results show the program was effective even after accounting for restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, according to doctors and researchers.

New York Times: Lawmakers Dismiss McKinsey’s Apology on Opioid Crisis as ‘Empty’
The top executive at McKinsey & Company, appearing on Wednesday for the first time before Congress to answer for the consulting firm’s role in fanning the opioid crisis, came under sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers. One likened the firm’s earnings from advising Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies to “blood money” from drug traffickers. McKinsey stopped advising opioid manufacturers in 2019 and agreed to pay about $600 million to settle investigations by state attorneys general into its role in helping “turbocharge” opioid sales.

Bipartisan Policy Center: Combating the Opioid Crisis: Smarter Spending to Enhance the Federal Response
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Opioid Crisis Task Force released its recommendations for strengthening the federal response to the opioid crisis. Among many recommendations, the new report calls for increased Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, the enforcement of parity rules that require insurers to cover SUD treatment on par with physical health conditions, and enhancements to data collection to assess the public health need and guide the response.

State Mental Health Legislation

CT Mirror: Connecticut’s prison system must better protect the mental health of its inmates
Studies have shown that approximately 24 in 100,000 inmates in Connecticut commit suicide every year. To put that in perspective, approximately 11 out of every 100,000 people in the United States died from car crashes in 2019. A new bill in the Connecticut General Assembly, S.B. 448 – An Act Concerning the Delivery of Health Care and Mental Health Care Services to Inmates of Correctional Institutions will help address the issue of suicide in corrections. The aim of S.B. 448 is to increase access to mental health professionals for all inmates.

San Diego Union Tribune: Jail reform bill prompted by conditions in San Diego passes Assembly committee
Legislation aimed at improving medical, mental health and training standards for jails in California has moved another step toward becoming law. Assembly Bill 2343, authored by Assemblymember Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa, and known as the “Saving Lives in Custody Act,” won the support of the Assembly Public Safety Committee Tuesday. If passed, AB 2343 would require the Board of State and Community Corrections, which sets minimum standards for jail operations, to boost training requirements for jail staff — particularly related to the care of mentally ill incarcerated people — and ensure that deputies conduct “sufficiently detailed safety checks of at-risk incarcerated persons to determine that the person is still alive.”

Contagious Diseases

Corrections 1: Washington's largest tuberculosis outbreak in 20 years connected to at least one state prison
Washington's largest tuberculosis outbreak in two decades is connected to at least one state prison, as cases rise in other parts of the region, the state Department of Health announced. The state's rise in cases mirrors a similar trend throughout the world, DOH said in a statement. To date, Washington has recorded about 70 TB cases, 17 of which are part of the same outbreak — and are connected to at least one Washington prison.

The Guardian: Colorado inmate becomes first person in US to test positive for bird flu
An inmate in Colorado has become the first human in the US to test positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu, amid the worst outbreak of the virus in seven years and a cull of millions of poultry in dozens of states. The unnamed prisoner contracted the infection during a work release assignment at a farm in Montrose county where workers were euthanizing an infected flock, the Colorado department of public health and environment said.

Health Records

Law.com: Deadly Trap for the Unwary - Deprivation of Prisoners’ Rights to Their Health Information
One aspect of prison medical care that has not been addressed much in judicial decisions is prisoners’ rights to their own health information and rights in medical decision-making. Inmates are often not told basic information regarding their own health. Prisons’ medical records explicitly warn the correctional and medical officers not to inform inmates regarding any follow up appointments. As a result, inmates are often kept in the dark regarding the severity and urgency of their condition.

Legal News

Courthouse News Service: Ninth Circuit throws out vaccine mandate for California prison guards
A Ninth Circuit panel on Monday overturned a federal judge’s order requiring all prison staff in California to get vaccinated against Covid-19, a mandate that had been opposed by the state government and the politically powerful prison guards’ union. The panel agreed with the state and the union that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s failure to implement a vaccine requirement for all prison staff, as opposed to only those working in a health care setting, didn’t amount to deliberate indifference to inmates’ serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General: DOJ Warns Prisons Bureau Risks Violating Contracting Law
The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice raised concerns the federal prison labor program was at risk of violating "Buy American" procurement policies after finding it had purchased products that were made in China.

NPR: In rejecting death row inmate's case, judge says law enforcement isn't a profession
An Arizona inmate who is mere weeks away from his scheduled execution argued the state's clemency board was unfairly loaded with law enforcement. But a state judge, Stephen Hopkins, has disagreed, saying that law enforcement does not meet the definition of a "profession." "Historically, law enforcement has not been thought of as a "profession," Hopkins said in his decision. "It is not regulated as other professions are, and has little of the characteristics of what is typically considered a profession."


CBS: Florida prison guards charged with murder in "back alley justice" beating of 60-year-old inmate
Three Florida correctional officers have been arrested and charged with murder in the fatal beating of a handcuffed prisoner in the mental health unit who had thrown urine at them, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced. After the inmate, who was being housed in the mental health unit of the prison, threw urine on one of the officers, investigators said the officers retaliated by putting him in handcuffs and began beating him.

New York Times: Los Angeles Sheriff, Accused of Cover-Up, Opens Investigation Into Reporter
The Los Angeles County sheriff said on Tuesday that he was investigating a reporter at The Los Angeles Times who had reported allegations that he was involved in covering up a case of inmate abuse, an announcement that drew accusations that he was violating the reporter’s First Amendment rights. The reporter, Alene Tchekmedyian, published an article on Monday detailing a legal claim filed by an officer who accused Sheriff Alex Villanueva of blocking an investigation into the alleged abuse and retaliating against whistle-blowers.

Technology Fees

KKTV: All personal inmate mail no longer accepted at Pueblo County Jail, new process introduced
The Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office has implemented a new digital format for how individuals receive mail. All personal inmate mail (including letters, photos and drawings, etc.) will no longer be accepted at the Pueblo County Jail. The mail must be sent to an address in Texas where it will be scanned into a digital format and sent to those who are in custody electronically. The inmates will be able to read the mail on a tablet. The portable tablets are paid for by inmate service fees.


Vera: Rural Communities Need More Health Care, Not More Jails
This dynamic—millions spent on new jails instead of on much-needed infrastructure like education, affordable housing, and health care—is evident across the United States. But it is particularly pronounced in rural counties, where jail populations have grown at an alarming rate over the last several decades. Vera’s research shows that jail incarceration in rural Tennessee increased 87 percent from 2000 to late 2021, while incarceration in the state’s biggest city declined 41 percent. This echoes a national shift in the geography of incarceration.

Alabama Political Reporter: Alabama’s contract with prison construction company being redacted
Alabama has signed the first contract with a company that is set to build one of at least two new prisons, but the contract hasn’t yet been released. The Alabama Department of Corrections is redacting the contract with Montgomery-based Caddell Construction to build a new 4,000- bed prison for men. Carla Crowder, executive director of Alabama Appleseed, has concerns that the prison construction plan doesn’t include funding to pay for promised expansions of services to incarcerated people. The U.S. Department of Justice in a lawsuit against Alabama alleges unconstitutional treatment of incarcerated men, including a lack of basic health care and mental health care.

Prison Policy Initiative: Prisons are a daily environmental injustice
One-third (32%) of state and federal prisons are located within 3 miles of federal Superfund sites, the most serious contaminated places requiring extensive cleanup. Research warns against living, working, or going to school near Superfund sites, as this proximity is linked to lower life expectancy and a litany of terrible illnesses. In western Pennsylvania, for example, a state prison located on top of a coal waste deposit has done permanent damage, causing skin rashes, sores, cysts, gastrointestinal problems, and cancer, with symptoms often appearing soon after arrival.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

New Hampshire Bulletin: Councilors, advocates raise concerns about company chosen to provide care at Hampstead Hospital
The Department of Health and Human Services has chosen a private, for-profit company that has primarily worked with adults in jails and prisons to provide behavioral health care to children and young adult patients admitted to Hampstead Hospital. When Councilors David Wheeler and Ted Gatsas asked to table the 138-page no-bid contract, they said they’d been given just days to review it. They also noted concerns raised by the State Employees Association about Wellpath’s primary focus on prisons and thousands of lawsuits alleging substandard care.