Weekly Update: March 23, 2021

COCHS Weekly Update: March 23, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The Grapevine Health Podcast: Healthcare In Prison
Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick sits down with Joe Houston Jr., a returning citizen who breaks down how healthcare works inside the prison system. Houston talks about how he was injured while incarcerated and how he was mistreated by the prison system. Houston breaks down the mental and physical vulnerability he felt while he was in prison and how he was prevented from getting the treatment he needed until after he was released.

Virginia News: Panel calls for ‘paradigm shift’ in Virginia school-to-prison pipeline
Suspension and expulsion are used disproportionately against Black students, other students of color and those with disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Those punishments, along with arrests at school, often lead to students having a criminal record, according to the NAACP. The trend is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Black youths from ages 15 to 17 made up 21% of the state’s overall population during the 2016-2017 school year, but they accounted for 57% of youths suspended statewide.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston: Medicaid expansion improves access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder
Findings from a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston focusing on Rhode Island indicate that the state’s Medicaid expansion led to an increase in the use of medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, for opioid use disorder. The state appears to have made much greater progress in treating OUD with MAT among Medicaid patients. Between 2012 and 2018, the MAT rate for non-Medicaid enrollees increased roughly 42%, and the OUD rate grew 79%. Among Medicaid enrollees, the MAT rate increased 76%, and the OUD rate rose only 50% during that period.

US News and World Report: U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Have Grown Faster in Urban Counties
In 2019, 22 people in urban counties died of drug overdoses for every 100,000 people. In the same year, rural counties saw an age-adjusted rate of 19.6 overdose deaths for every 100,000 people. The report, released by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, also offers insight into which kind of drugs claimed the most lives over the last two decades and which communities were hit the hardest over time.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Two Pa. prisons have vaccinated more than 70% of inmates. An incentive program may be making a difference.
Three out of the state’s 23 prisons have so far offered vaccines to inmates and staff, and the number of inmates who have gotten the vaccine at two of those facilities is upwards of 70%. One of the reasons why that could be happening? Money. As part of an incentive program, the department is offering inmates a $25 commissary credit to buy clothing, food, or other items, after they receive both their initial and booster shots.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

The New York Times: Covid Outbreaks Devastated Prisons, but State Inmates’ Access to the Vaccine Varies Widely
About half of states, including California, Connecticut and Kansas, have included all inmates in early phases of their vaccination plans. Florida has yet to make state inmates eligible at all, while Texas and Arkansas this week announced that they would begin allowing some inmates to get shots. And many of the remaining states have chosen to vaccinate inmates based largely on their eligibility if they were not in prison; older inmates, for instance, are getting shots in many states, while young, healthier ones are not.

Vote Immigration: ICE Ordered To Transport NY Detainees To Get Vaccines
A federal judge on Thursday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to facilitate vaccinations of immigrants detained at the agency’s Buffalo Service Processing Center in upstate New York. New York District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo said that counsel for the eligible detainees should attempt to schedule vaccine appointments within the state of New York. If appointments are available, ICE will be required to transport the detainees to and fro.

Stat: Prisons are long-term care facilities. So why don’t inmates get priority for Covid-19 vaccination?
Chandra Bozelko, a columnist who was incarcerated for more than six years, writes: In the four-tier priority list for Covid-19 vaccination set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, residents of long-term care facilities are at the top along with health care personnel — but not if those long-term care facilities are prisons, jails, and other detention centers. Giving inmates the same priority for vaccination as nursing home and long-term care residents would benefit community health as much as it would the inmates. The Prison Policy Initiative estimates that, as of December 2020, as many as 500,000 community infections resulted from mismanagement of the Covid-19 risk in correctional settings.

The Press-Enterprise: California jail, prison inmates now eligible for coronavirus vaccine
Inmates in California jails and prisons — regardless of age or health — will be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine under updated guidelines released this week by the state Department of Public Health. The new guidelines, from Monday, March 15, open vaccinations for individuals in “congregate residential setting(s),” including jails, prisons, immigration detention centers, behavioral health facilities and homeless shelters.

KTAR News: COVID-19 vaccine now available to eligible metro Phoenix jail inmates
Authorities started vaccinating eligible metro Phoenix jail inmates for COVID-19. The shots are available to inmates ages 55 and older who want them. The county’s jail facilities had 318 inmates in that category. There were 69 active cases in custody, 1.2% of the jail population, according to the CHS COVID-19 dashboard.

VT Digger: Scott refuses call by advisory panel to vaccinate inmates ‘as soon as possible’
Gov. Phil Scott is standing by his position against the widespread vaccination of Vermont incarcerated individuals “as soon as possible,” despite calls to do so from an advisory panel responsible for making recommendations to his administration. “There has not been a change; they will be vaccinated like anybody else, with the age banding,” Scott said during a press conference.

Burlington Free Press: Vermont officials clash over COVID-19 vaccine priority for incarcerated people
In a letter addressed to state health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine on March 15, the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Advisory Committee called on the Vermont Health Department and Governor Scott's office to offer vaccines to "all incarcerated and detained individuals" in the current phase of distribution. The letter further cited the ethical obligation of public health officials to prioritize individuals and groups "living in high-risk environments".

VT Digger: Defender General calls for mandatory vaccination of corrections officers
The vaccination rate for staffers at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport — site of the largest outbreak in a state prison since the pandemic began — is far lower than the overall prison system. Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio says he’d like to see a vaccination rate of 100%. And, he said, if a corrections officer can’t verify having received a shot, or has refused to get one, that person should not be permitted to work inside a prison.

COVID-19 Resumption of Prison Visits

The Texas Tribune: Texas lifts yearlong ban on prison visitation beginning March 15
Texas inmates will be able to resume in-person visits with family and friends for the first time since the governor declared a public health disaster a year ago, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The visits will be allowed at all of the state’s nearly 100 lockups, with some new limitations. Visits will need to be scheduled in advance, inmates will be allowed two in-person visits a month, and only one adult can visit at a time in order to allow for social distancing.

Oklahoma News 4: ODOC to resume inmate visitations in April
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections will soon resume inmate visitations. Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that inmate visitations will resume on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Even though visitations will resume, ODOC will continue to follow CDC and health department guidelines. As a result, visitations will be limited to two hours and structured to accommodate social distancing.

COVID-19 Transmission Lawsuit

KTLA: Inmates sue California over prisons spreading infections in ‘public health disaster’
The family of a 61-year-old California inmate who died of the coronavirus sued state corrections officials Tuesday, blaming a botched transfer of infected inmates to San Quentin State Prison that killed 28 inmates and a correctional officer last year. Daniel Ruiz was serving a four-year sentence for possession of a controlled substance for sale and for being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to corrections officials. He died July 10. Corrections officials said he was scheduled to be released in September 2021.

COVID-19 Limiting Incarceration

Reuters: U.S. jail population plunged as COVID-19 spread, Justice Department says
The proportion of Americans detained in local jails - where people are locked up awaiting trial or serving sentences for minor crimes - fell to a three-decade low last year as officials raced to ease crowding as COVID-19 spread across the country. The U.S. Justice Department said in a report Wednesday that U.S. jails held 185,400 fewer people in June than they did the year before, a drop of about 25%.

WHYY: Delaware bill would cut jail time during health crisis
Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown is sponsoring legislation that would give incarcerated people extra credit for the time they spend behind bars during a public health crisis. For every month served in such a crisis, their sentence would be reduced by six months under this legislation. The maximum reduction would be one year. Minor-Brown says those held in Delaware prisons should be compensated for the extra restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Pennsylvania Capital-Start: Inmate Mental Health: The other public health crisis in Pa.’s prisons and jails
In an op-ed, Jill McCorkel a professor of Sociology and Criminology at Villanova University writes: Professor Craig Haney, a leading expert on solitary confinement, has characterized prolonged social and physical isolation as a form of psychological torture. Even short periods of isolation can trigger depression, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, disorientation, and suicide. For those suffering from mental illness, the effects also include emotional disorders, cognitive decline, hallucinations, self-harm, and psychosis.

Justice Clearing House Webinar: Preventing Jail Suicide: Issues We Don’t Talk About, But Should
Most jails have suicide prevention programs in place. Yet, inmates keep dying and suicide remains the leading cause of death in jail facilities. These issues are essential to preventing in-custody suicide deaths—and reducing the liability associated with them.

Alive: Covered in feces, man died of dehydration in Georgia jail 'that looks like a friggin horse stall'
A Reveal investigation has uncovered new details of a man who died at the Cobb County Detention Center in 2018. The evidence was kept secret until 11Alive filed a lawsuit against former Sheriff Neil Warren last year to obtain the records. A familiar face at the Cobb County Detention Center, 54-year-old Reginald Wilson spent more than 1,300 days in and out of jail since 1997 for charges often related to his fragile mental health.

WJAC: Lacking mental health policies at 2 jails led to inmate's suicide in 2019, lawsuit claims
The daughter of an inmate who took his own life two years ago has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against two local prisons claiming the facilities’ insufficient mental health policies contributed to his death. The lawsuit alleges that state police and the sheriff’s office were aware of deficient mental health policies to address mental health issues and Duffalo didn’t receive a mental health or suicide screening when he arrived at the jail.

Private Prisons

Welland Tribune: Canada’s largest public sector pension sells off stakes in two U.S. private prison giants
A Canadian Crown corporation has sold off its entire stake in the American private prison industry following a public campaign by the union that represents the majority of federal employees. The Public Sector Pension Investment Fund (PSP) bought more than 600,000 shares of CoreCivic and the Geo Group. In late February, days after a Toronto Star story exposed those acquisitions, PSP moved to sell off its shares in the two companies. The battle over private prison stocks has been playing out all over the world for years. It boiled over during the Trump administration, when private prison companies were accused of jailing asylum seekers who had been separated from their families at the U.S./Mexico border.