Weekly Update: July 16, 2024
Echoes Of Slavery In Corrections –Will Medicaid In Corrections Begin To Undo The Harm?


Highlighted Stories

Editor's Note
This week's highlighted stories focus on the extent to which slavery continues throughout our correctional systems. When the Thirteenth Amendment banned slavery, it had one exception: prison labor. The first story from California focuses on an initiative that is being put before the voters in that state to ban prison labor. The second story focuses on Louisiana, which has a long history of using the Louisiana State Penitentiary as a plantation worked by incarcerated people as forced labor. Before the American Civil War the state penitentiary was known as Angola Plantations, a slave plantation owned by a slave trader.

There is a long history of slavery and incarceration in the United States. At COCHS’ 2015 convening (Opportunities and Intersections: Health Reform, The Excellence Act, and Criminal Justice Reform) held in association with National Council, Gary Puckrein the CEO of the, National Minority Quality Forum recounted the history of slavery and incarceration in antebellum Washington DC: “When whites here in Washington were leaving the city during the summer because there was swamp and mosquitoes…, they would take their slaves, and they would kennel them at…prison.” (For our subscribers who are unaware of the multiple convenings COCHS held in Washington DC that explore the impact of the Affordable Care Act on criminal justice, those recordings and papers associated with these convenings can be found on our website.)

From its origins, COCHS has been explicit about the racial inequality that pervades our criminal justice and health systems. Medicaid gives new rights to people in our correctional systems. While the constitution might still treat incarcerated people as slaves, Medicaid beneficiaries are entitled to due process before losing access to their benefits. With the latest announcement by HHS that five more states (Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont) have had their 1115 waivers approved to allow Medicaid coverage within corrections, we will see if this expansion of Medicaid into corrections might start to undo some of the great harm slavery has perpetrated on many of our citizens.

Echoes Of Slavery
Politico: Californians will vote on slavery ban in November
A constitutional amendment ending all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude — largely targeted at forced prison labor — is headed to the November ballot in California, the latest state to take up an issue that’s gaining traction nationally. The “End Slavery in California Act,” introduced by California’s Legislative Black Caucus as part of a bigger package of reparations bills earlier this year, will go before voters this fall after passing the state Legislature. California’s Constitution, like the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, currently bans slavery and involuntary servitude — except as a punishment for crime. That exception in slavery clauses in the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions — the so-called “slavery loophole” — has gotten increasing attention in recent years,

Dallas Morning News: Louisiana ordered to help protect prisoners working in fields as temperatures soar
Amid blistering summer temperatures, a federal judge ordered Louisiana to take steps to protect the health and safety of incarcerated workers toiling in the fields of a former slave plantation, saying they face “substantial risk of injury or death.” The state immediately appealed the decision. The order comes amid growing nationwide attention on prison labor, a practice that is firmly rooted in slavery and has evolved over decades into a multibillion-dollar industry. The men, most of whom are Black, said they use hoes and shovels or stoop to pick crops by hand in dangerously hot temperatures as armed guards look on. If they refuse to work or fail to meet quotas, they can be sent to solitary confinement or face other punishment, according to disciplinary guidelines.

Medicaid: Five New Waivers Approved
Medicaid.gov: HHS Authorizes Five States to Provide Historic Health Care Coverage for People Transitioning Out of Incarceration
Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont to provide better continuity of Medicaid and CHIP coverage for incarcerated people, whose health care needs — from substance-use disorder treatment to chronic physical health conditions — have historically gone overlooked. The Medicaid Reentry Section 1115 Demonstration Opportunity allows a state to cover certain services not otherwise coverable in Medicaid and CHIP up to 90 days before an eligible person’s expected release from incarceration. This includes coverage of substance-use disorder (SUD) treatment before a Medicaid or CHIP beneficiary is released from jail, prison, or a youth correctional facility. Additionally, states will be able to help connect the person to community-based Medicaid and CHIP providers up to 90 days prior to their release to ensure they can continue their treatment after they return to the community.

BJA: Apply to Participate in the Medicaid and Corrections Policy Academy
The Council of State Governments Justice Center and Center for Health Care Strategies have announced a six-month Medicaid and Corrections Policy Academy with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Policy Academy will bring together teams of senior executive agency leaders from four to six states to develop multi-sector collaborative planning to leverage Medicaid for improving reentry outcomes for people involved in the justice system with complex needs.

Opioid Epidemic

NIDA: Everyone deserves addiction treatment that works — including those in jail
The FDA has approved three medications for opioid use disorder: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. All three are effective, safe, and lifesaving. But they are woefully underused, particularly in criminal justice settings. A 2020 study in Rhode Island estimated that overdose deaths could be reduced by 30% in the state if jails and prisons made all three medications available to those who needed them. Studies also show that people who receive these medications while in jail or prison are less likely to return to substance use and more likely to continue with treatment in the community afterward.

Health Affairs: Most States Allow Medicaid Managed Care Plans Discretion To Restrict Substance Use Disorder Treatment Benefits
Managed care plans, which contract with states to cover three-quarters of Medicaid enrollees, play a crucial role in addressing the drug epidemic in the United States. Most states have mandated coverage of common forms of substance use disorder treatment and prohibited annual maximums and enrollee cost sharing in managed care. Fewer than one-third of states forbade managed care plans from imposing prior authorization for each treatment service. For most treatment medications, fewer than two-thirds of states prohibited prior authorization, drug testing, “fail first,” or psychosocial therapy requirements in managed care.

Medical Express: Innovative program may reduce substance use among formerly incarcerated men
A study at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work has shown significant reductions in alcohol and substance use among formerly incarcerated men through a unique combination of critical dialogue and capacity-building projects. Researchers found that peer-delivered critical dialogue (CD) and capacity-building projects (CBP) were effective in reducing substance use when participants attended the sessions consistently. This study, however, utilized critical consciousness (CC) theory, which promotes critical reflection on one's social, political, and economic conditions and encourages civic engagement.


Office of Senator Jon Ossoff: Senate Passes Sens. Ossoff, Braun, & Durbin, Rep. McBath & Armstrong’s Bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Act
U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff’s bipartisan bill to strengthen Federal prison oversight just passed the U.S. Senate and now heads to the President’s desk to become law. Sen. Ossoff first introduced the bipartisan bill in 2022 after leading multiple bipartisan investigations into corruption, abuse, and misconduct within the Federal prison system, uncovering a lack of oversight of the Federal prison system that led to long-term failures likely contributing to loss of life; jeopardizing the health and safety of incarcerated people and staff; and undermining public safety and civil rights.

Daily News: Brooklyn federal jail ignores inmate’s lung cancer diagnosis in latest medical mess
Staff at Brooklyn’s troubled Metropolitan Detention Center ignored an inmate’s cancer diagnosis for months, letting a mass in his lungs grow to double its size while he coughed up enough blood to fill a milk carton. Delays in treatment and missed medical appointments have long been a problem at MDC, with Manhattan Federal Court Judge Jesse Furman lamenting, “There are far too many cases to cite." When a federal judge demanded an explanation for the inaction, MDC staff said in writing: “The results were somehow missed by the health services department."

Colorado Sun: Masturbating inmates pepper-sprayed, restrained, forced to wear yellow cards at Colorado federal prison, report says
Inmates caught masturbating inside a federal prison in Florence were pepper-sprayed and placed in restraints, then ordered into a disciplinary program in which they had to wear jumpsuits without pockets and yellow cards on lanyards around their necks, according to a whistle blower. An employee of the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, in south-central Colorado, reported the disciplinary policy to federal investigators. The disciplinary program has since been discontinued, according to a report from the U.S. Attorney- General's Office to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

Climate Change

Los Angeles Times: As inmates swelter, California prisons remain unprepared for extreme heat
The potential heat-related death of a prison inmate in California’s Central Valley is focusing renewed attention on conditions within correctional institutions as extreme heat, wildfire smoke and flooding pose increasing threats to incarcerated people. California’s prisons are uniquely unprepared for climate change because of their remote locations, aging infrastructure and overcrowding. Many facilities are not equipped with central air conditioning, updated ventilation, shade structures or backup generators to power cooling devices during outages. The state’s 94,000 incarcerated people are distinctly vulnerable to climate hazards because they are entirely reliant upon the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for preparedness and response.

The Nation: The Scorching Temperatures Are Turning Prison Cells Into Furnaces
As climate change warms the planet to record-breaking temperatures, jails and prisons have become summer broilers. Behind bars, extreme heat days have led to a 3.5 percent increase in deaths and, in Western states like California, an 8.6 percent increase. In California, 16 percent of the prison population is over age 55; their increased age and accompanying medical conditions make people even more vulnerable to extreme temperature-related illnesses.

The Guardian: ‘Like an oven’: death at US women’s prison amid heatwave sparks cries for help
An incarcerated person at California’s largest women’s prison has died amid a brutal heatwave that has left prison occupants without air conditioning begging for relief and warning of dire consequences for their health. A woman in the Central California Women’s Facility, located in the Central valley city of Chowchilla, died as temperatures in the region climbed above 110F (43.3C). There have been reports of potentially fatal conditions inside jails and prisons during heatwaves across California and in Nevada, Illinois, Texas, Florida and other states this year.


KSUT: Women don’t have equal access to college in prison. Here’s why
In over half of all states, men’s prisons offer more access to Pell Grant-eligible courses than women's prisons do. And it’s not just about the money to pay for college: In 11 states, Vera found there were no college programs at all in women’s prisons. In 2022, Vera found that shorter sentences often meant women did not have sufficient time to complete degrees while incarcerated. People in men’s prisons often have the freedom to transfer between facilities in pursuit of the courses they need to complete degrees. But local prison systems often have fewer women’s prisons; so if a course isn’t offered, in many cases, the student simply can’t take it.


Addiction Policy Forum: Criminal Justice Leaders Responding to Addiction: July 26, 12:00 PM ET
Criminal Justice Leaders Responding to Addiction is a comprehensive training designed to increase knowledge about addiction and develop skills and strategies to help criminal justice professionals and organizations support their communities.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing: Transformative Strategies for Person-centered Care: Bridging Tobacco-related Disparities for Justice-involved Individuals: July 30, 3 - 6 PM Et
The use of commercial tobacco is disproportionately concentrated among systematically marginalized groups, including people with a history of criminal justice involvement. Studies show that 60% to 80% of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons smoke, compared to 15% of non-incarcerated adults. However, few jails and prisons offer behavioral health counseling along with the recommended tobacco treatment.

Data & Statistics

BJS: Sexual Victimization Reported by Adult Correctional Authorities, 2019-2020 – Statistical Tables
This report presents counts and rates of allegations of inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual victimization across all types of adult correctional facilities. Summary-level information is presented for 2019 and 2020 separately. Detailed information about substantiated incidents of sexual victimization is presented as aggregated estimates for 2019 and 2020, so those estimates reflect both years.

health policy institute of ohio: Social Drivers of Violent Crime
Data and information on the structural and social drivers of violence, including racism, income inequality, neighborhood planning, gendered social norms, education and employment, health care, housing and criminal justice. Recently passed or proposed state-level policy changes that may have an impact on community violence. A set of evidence-informed policy recommendations and implementation examples that Ohio can leverage to drive improvement.

State Roundup

tuscon.com: Judge orders autopsy of Arizona inmate who died after surgery
A federal judge, Roslyn Silve, who issued a sweeping ruling last year requiring Arizona to improve unconstitutionally bad prisoner health care has taken the unusual — and possibly unprecedented — step of ordering the corrections department to ensure an autopsy was completed on an inmate. Inmate Santos Silva died June 30 because of poor care following hernia surgery. Silver’s order to the Arizona Department of Corrections said Silva’s death “may relate to ADCRR’s compliance with the permanent injunction” the judge ordered last year in the health-care case. That injunction requiring immediate state action came after more than a decade of inadequate health care provided to tens of thousands of prisoners.

The Observer: US Judge Finds California in Contempt Over Prison Mental Health Staffing
Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller has found top California prison officials in civil contempt for failing to hire enough mental health professionals to adequately treat tens of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental disorders. The judge has found top California prison officials in civil contempt for failing to hire enough mental health professionals to adequately treat tens of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental disorders.

FireRescue1: Calif. agencies see decline in inmate firefighter numbers
Two wet winters followed by repeated record-breaking heat waves in recent months have set California on a path to a fiery summer. But prison reform and the COVID-19 pandemic have shrunk the pool of inmates eligible to attend the camps — operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, CAL FIRE or the Los Angeles County Fire Department — for fire training and assignments. At the same time that the camp sizes have shrunk — from a peak of 4,250 to fewer than 1,800 today — California has experienced its biggest and deadliest fires, with this summer off to a bad start.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Another Suicide At The Maui Jail Leaves A Grieving Family To Conclude ‘Something Is Wrong’
Artrina De Lima apparently hanged herself with a shirt in the Maui Community Correctional Center on May 13. She died six days later after she was removed from life support at Maui Memorial Medical Center, becoming the sixth known suicide at the jail in the past four years. Her death revives troubling questions about mental health services at MCCC that have been raised by employees. Death reports on previous suicides at the jail stressed the urgent need to hire staff and upgrade those services, and two years ago the state paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle a lawsuit over the suicide of yet another inmate who killed herself in 2017.

WSIU: Menard prison staff picket, citing unsafe working conditions
Hundreds of Menard Correctional Center employees and their supporters staged a rally, highlighting what they described as perilous working conditions at the state’s largest maximum-security prison. The problems at the southern Illinois facility stem from low staffing levels. In recent months the prison has been operating with about 50 fewer correctional officers than it should have daily.

Pekin Daily Times: The U.N. calls restraint chairs torture. Illinois jails use them every day
A nine-month investigation by the Illinois Answers Project found county jails in the state restrain people in chairs on average more than 1,000 times a year, often in ways that violate their own policies and last longer than recommended by leading standards and manufacturer guidelines, causing physical injuries and psychological trauma to people commonly grappling with mental illness and addiction. Human rights groups have long decried the use of restraint chairs in American jails and prisons, where they say the device is prone to misuse and abuse that is akin to torture.

Department of Justice: United States Attorney’s Office Reaches Settlement to Reform Wayne County Jail
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan has reached a landmark settlement agreement with Wayne County concerning inmates who have disabilities. The settlement agreement requires Wayne County to implement reforms at the jail: identify inmates who have disabilities when they arrive and programs that will allow each inmate have access to services no matter where they are assigned; provide access to physical health, mental health, and dental services for all inmates who have disabilities, including programs for treatment of opioid use disorder; ensure administration of medication to inmates who have disabilities; and revise programs to prevent suicide.

KBIA: Missouri counties say they lose money housing people headed to state prison
The cost of holding someone in a Missouri county jail for the period before and after a conviction ultimately falls to the state. In 2024, the state spent about $50 million to reimburse counties for the cost. But it’s had trouble keeping up with that tab. That’s left counties stuck with most of the cost, even as the General Assembly has scraped together money to reimburse the expense — at a rate that doesn’t really make local governments whole. It costs one county $750,000 a year to hold people on state charges. The reimbursement from the state is $225,000.

Columbus Dispatch: Twice inmates overpower guards at hospitals, took guns, died by suicide
At an Ohio hospital, a Montgomery County Jail inmate overpowered a deputy, seized his firearm, and fled the premises. The inmate, Dejuan Johnson, was later found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No hospital staff or patients were harmed during the incident. This incident echoes a similar event in 2022, where another inmate overpowered a guard, resulting in both their deaths.

OKCFox: Oklahoma County jail fails health inspection after not allowing OSDH inside facility
Two failed health inspections in about as many weeks for the Oklahoma County jail. According to two Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reports, the jail didn't allow health inspectors to enter their facility unannounced on June 25 and July 9. The OSDH says that's a violation, and the reason why the Oklahoma County Detention Center failed both inspections. "They've actually failed nine health inspections since 2019," Mark Faulk with the People's Council for Justice Reform said.

Huffpost: 64 Deaths Inside A Texas Jail Are Increasing Scrutiny Of A Right-Wing Sheriff
In early June, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) urged the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into “the distressing pattern of inmate deaths and jail incidents at the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth.” Critics have also homed in on Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who is in charge of the jail. Aafter a jail standards review, the lockup was found to be out of compliance with “minimum jail standards.” Last month, the county approved the largest settlement in county history following the death of a baby born inside the Tarrant County Jail that year.

New York Times: These Doctors Were Censured. Wisconsin’s Prisons Hired Them Anyway.
While serving time in a Wisconsin prison in 2021, Darnell Price watched a golf-ball-size lump on his thigh grow as large as a football. Mr. Price pressed for a thorough examination, he said, but the prison’s physician, Dr. Joan Hannula, did not order a biopsy. It is not the first time Dr. Hannula has come under scrutiny: Records show she surrendered her medical license in California , then pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge and no contest to a charge of forging a prescription. In Wisconsin, where the arrests of multiple prison officials raised urgent questions about inmate care, Dr. Hannula is not an anomaly. Nearly a third of staff physicians the state corrections system has employed over the past decade have been censured an unusually high concentration given how rare it is for a doctor to be formally reprimanded.

Spectrum: Former guards and inmate families urge lawmakers to fix Wisconsin prisons
Former guards in Wisconsin prisons and family members of people incarcerated there urged lawmakers to address what they said were systemic problems within the state's prison system going back years. They detailed allegations of sexual harassment by supervisors, retaliation against prison guards who dare to speak out and abuse of inmates. Many called for creating an independent ombudsman office to investigate complaints.

Rikers Island

Spectrum: Rikers Island inmates sue NYC claiming they were trapped in cells during jail fire that injured 20
Inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island are suing the city claiming they were trapped in their cells during a jailhouse fire that injured 20 people last year. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan said the 15 men were among those kept locked in their rooms by corrections officers as a fire burned through a housing unit for people with acute medical conditions requiring infirmary care or Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant housing.


Florida Phoenix: FL prisons are using wristbands to track inmates, and punishing those who refuse, some say
A Florida Department of Corrections requirement that inmates wear electronic bracelets to monitor their movements in one facility is raising concerns among some family members and advocates that refusal to wear the devices is resulting in punishment. Last year, the department began using artificial intelligence to surveil inmates’ outgoing phone calls using key words, although the system screens out calls with doctors, lawyers, and spiritual advisers. The wristband mandate comes after the agency amended its 2020 contract with Global Tel*Link Corp. (now doing business as ViaPath Technologies) to provide real time location systems.

KOMO News: Kittitas County Jail first in WA to implement new inmate health monitoring system
The Kittitas County Jail (KCJ) has become the first facility in the state of Washington to implement the OverWatch system, an inmate health monitoring solution. The OverWatch system enables remote, real-time monitoring of critical inmate health metrics and alerts KCJ staff to potential threats and medical emergencies while promoting prompt intervention. Jails and prisons in Washington state have experienced 12 in-custody deaths so far in 2024 and 24 in 2023.

Correctional Health Care Providers

Davis Vanguard: Wellpath’s Flawed and Deadly Cost Containment Program – Fetuses in the Toilet, the Lauren Kent Story
Our journalism and investigation continues to focus on the flawed and deadly Cost Containment Program utilized and implemented by Wellpath employees. It is relevant to mention that the jurisdictions which decide to contract with Wellpath agree to adopt their policies and procedures. Through my research, I have discovered that there are U.S. District Court judges and lawyers throughout the United States who are unaware or who feign ignorance about Wellpath’s common practices. Wellpath employees have established a common practice and policy whereby their employees typically neglect and mistreat incarcerated pregnant women.

Courthouse News Service: California inmates claim jail medical provider gave poor care to cut costs
Male prisoners at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California argued in federal court Wednesday afternoon that Wellpath Management, the contracted medical provider at the jail, was deliberately indifferent when it provided them substandard medical care to save money. 12 individual plaintiffs are suing Wellpath under the Monell doctrine, which allows an individual to hold a government agency responsible for violating their rights or causing harm. Plaintiffs say Wellpath operates its program based on a practice of cost-cutting rather than providing constitutionally sound medical care in the jail.

Voice of Monterey: Monterey County settles suit over alleged suicide of neglected inmate
Monterey County officials have paid $1 million to the family of Carlos Chávez, the inmate who seemingly suffocated himself by stuffing toilet paper down his throat during 2022’s rash of deaths in the county jail. The jail’s healthcare provider, Wellpath, also agreed to settle out of court for an additional, undisclosed amount. Unlike the county, which is required to disclose its portion of settlements, the private company can keep its part confidential. In Monterey County’s case, Wellpath has repeatedly been found to be providing inadequate care and is facing up to $2 million in fines in August for violating as many as 43 provisions of its annual $15 million county contract in recent years.

Charlotte Observer: Jail death lawsuit alleges Mecklenburg sheriff has to ‘cover it up’ when issues are reported
Wellpath has a history of being sued for its work in North Carolina’s jails. The family of a 25-year-old Charlotte man who died inside the Mecklenburg County jail has alleged that detention officers were “nonchalant” as their son cycled through signs of fentanyl intoxication and opioid withdrawal days after being arrested. The lawsuit, which references jail documents and video, names McFadden and several on-duty detention officers. It also names Wellpath — the jail’s former healthcare provider — and several nurses.

KPAX: Jail inmate sues Missoula County claiming ‘deficient’ medical care
An inmate at the Missoula County Detention Center has filed a lawsuit against the county claiming he has received deficient medical care during his incarceration. Medical care at the detention center is provided by Wellpath, a national healthcare provider that cares for roughly 300,000 inmates in 37 states. The county last month renewed its contract with the provider for five additional years for roughly $15.1 million.

Colorado Politics: Federal judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit against El Paso County, jail contractor for deficient care
A federal judge last month rejected an attempt by El Paso County and the former medical provider (Wellpath) for its jail to dismiss a lawsuit alleging deliberate indifference to a detainee's serious medical needs. Alexandro Duran, who is partially paralyzed and uses a wheelchair, entered the county jail in November 2021. While there, staff allegedly refused to provide accommodations that would prevent him from developing sores from his wheelchair or his bed. Ultimately, Duran experienced sores that reached into his bones and muscles. Duran alleged the county failed to accommodate his disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Quality Correctional Health Care
North West Alabamian: Winston County Commission asked to pay more for inmate health care
Officials with Quality Correctional Health Care that provides medical services for Winston County Jail inmates are claiming to be in the red, offering a solution which would cost the Winston County Commission an additional $84,000 per year. Ritchie Harbison chief operating officer told the commission, “We’ve been losing money every month.” Currently, the company is providing a full time nurse and a part-time nurse for jail inmates, but due to increased work load, the part-time nurse is working over 30 hours a week, which brings her up to needing health insurance and benefits given to full-time employees, company officials explained.