COCHS' Weekly Update: April 21, 2020


COCHS' News
New Partner Resource from Kaiser Family Foundation: Addressing the Justice-Involved Population in Coronavirus Response Efforts
This brief (also available on COCHS' COVID-19 page) provides an overview of health risks for the justice-involved population, discusses the role Medicaid can play in response efforts for justice-involved individuals, and identifies other steps states and localities can take to mitigate risk and spread of coronavirus among this population to protect and promote public health. While these steps can help mitigate risks within facilities, individuals may face an array of challenges upon re-entry into the community, which may leave them at high risk for health, social, and economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resource Update: COCHS Interactive Map of State Department of Corrections COVID-19 Statistics
Since last week, eight more states have begun reporting COVID-19 cases from their correctional department websites: Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island (via Facebook), and Tennessee. The states whose correctional department's websites are currently not reporting this data are Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico, and West Virginia. Often those websites have links to their public health department statistics but those data, as of this mailing, do not specify the cases occurring within correctional facilities.

COCHS New CEO: Vikki Wachino
Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS) announced yesterday (April 20) that it has appointed Vikki Wachino as Chief Executive Officer. Vikki joins Dr. Homer Venters, who become COCHS president in January. COCHS has worked since its creation in 2005 to build bridges between correctional and community providers and advance the health and well-being of people involved in the justice system.



COVID-19 - Impact Behind The Walls

The New York Times: ‘Something Is Going to Explode’: When Coronavirus Strikes a Prison
On March 28, Patrick Jones, 49, who was serving a 27-year sentence at Oakdale for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, became the first federal inmate in the country to die from the virus. The New York Times provides an oral history of the first fatal outbreak in the federal prison system, in Oakdale, La..

NPR: 73% Of Inmates At An Ohio Prison Test Positive For Coronavirus
A state prison has become a hot spot of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ohio, with at least 1,828 confirmed cases among inmates — accounting for the majority of cases in Marion County, which leads Ohio in the reported infections. The large cluster of cases was found through mass testing of everyone at the Marion Correctional Institution; 109 staff members were also positive. No COVID-19 deaths have been reported at the prison. There are currently 2,400 coronavirus cases among inmates in Ohio's state prisons, along with 244 staff members.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Detention Settings Are Extremely Susceptible To Infectious Disease
Because introduction of COVID-19 via asymptomatic carriers is nearly inevitable, and because conditions strongly favor contagion inside the institution, most correctional facilities will amplify the COVID-19 pandemic and act as a reservoir of illness to the wider community. As of April 4, 2020, there was an estimated infection rate of 5.1% in Rikers Island, five times higher than the general population rate in New York, the state with the most cases in the country.

Forbes: Federal Bureau Of Prisons Institutions Not Showing Any Signs Of “Flattening Curve”
The continued inaction of the BOP to swiftly reduce the population of inmates, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, is an unfolding story with tragic consequences. The inability of the BOP to take decisive action during a crisis like this demonstrates “deliberate indifference,” a standard for cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. William Fick, Fick & Marx, joined by the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts, filed a class action lawsuit against FMC Devens and the BOP on behalf of inmates at the facility located near Boston, MA, a hotbed of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Buzz Feed News: The High COVID-19 Infection Rate At This Michigan Prison Has Inmates Fearing For Their Health
A Michigan prison that's emerged as a hot spot for coronavirus cases has a rate of infection that exceeds rates at jail systems in New York City and Chicago, both of which have garnered national attention as large sources of the outbreak. At Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson, 10% of prisoners and 21% of staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Detroit Free Press analysis of Department of Corrections data. The percentage of the incarcerated population sickened by the novel coronavirus at Parnall has surpassed the 7% infection rate at the Cook County jail in Chicago. Parnall’s rate is also higher than that of Rikers Island and other New York City jails.

Cal Matters: Like a Petri dish for the virus: Tens of thousands of California inmates are at risk
An infectious disease is a matter of mathematics. Its transmissibility is defined as its reproduction rate, and this coronavirus is very good at reproducing, better than the flu, although not quite as good as the virus known as SARS. Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantining the sick – all can dampen its spread and forestall a crush of patients flooding hospitals all at once. But that’s on the outside. In jails, there is no real social distancing, and certainly no self-isolation.

Santa Barbara Independent: Sisters Say Brother Sick with COVID-19 Was Released from Lompoc Prison to Die
As of Wednesday, April 15, 69 inmates and 24 staff at USP Lompoc have tested positive for COVID-19, more than any other correctional institution operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). With Santa Barbara County reporting 313 COVID-19 cases, the penitentiary now accounts for a full 30 percent of the region’s total. The BOP has been resoundingly criticized for its response to the numerous outbreaks at their facilities, with inmates and their families ― as well as guards, who feel they’ve been unfairly put in harm’s way ― calling the containment efforts too little too late. So far, 446 inmates and 248 staff are confirmed infected; 14 inmates have died.

MedicineNet: Jail and Prison Challenges During COVID-19
Medscape Psychiatry editorial director Bret Stetka, MD, spoke with Elizabeth Ford, MD, former chief of psychiatry for NYC Health + Hospitals/Correctional Health Services and current chief medical officer for the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services. Dr. Ford explained the difficulty of preventing the spread of COVID-19: A really important distinction is that individuals who are incarcerated do not have control over their behavior in the way that they would in the outside world. They may want to wash their hands frequently and to stay six feet away from everybody, but they can't because the environment doesn't allow for that.

VT Digger: DOC developing expanded Covid-19 ‘surge’ plan for inmates
With its medical “surge” facility filling up with prisoners who have tested positive for the coronavirus, the state Department of Corrections is now working on a plan in case an even bigger outbreak of Covid-19 occurs behind bars in Vermont. A total of 35 inmates who had been housed at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to corrections officials. The state is waiting for results on three other tests from inmates.



COVID-19 - Correctional Healthcare Vendors

The News & Observer: Kansas changes prison health providers amid ongoing concerns
Gov. Laura Kelly, KS, criticized the health care provided in the state's prisons by Tennessee-based Corizon Health, stating: Inmates and staff are concerned about the level of care inmates have been receiving from the corrections medical provider, Corizon. I understand the frustrations. In response, Corizon pushed back against allegations from the state that it had failed to acquire an adequate stock of personal protective equipment for use by its medical staff, lacked critical staffing, and failed to issue protocols for COVID-19 testing and treatment.



COVID-19 - Medicaid

The Missouri Times: The importance of implementing Medicaid suspension during COVID-19
In an op-ed, Mikel Whittier a Strategist of Justice and Health Equity at the Integrated Health Network and Liza Weiss, the Executive Director of Missouri Appleseed, write: Last summer, Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 514, which changes how Missouri handles people with Medicaid going to prison or jail. Previously, when people with Medicaid went to prison or jail, their insurance would be terminated. SB 514 changes the law to suspend Medicaid rather than terminating it. Unfortunately, SB 514 has not yet been put into effect. The COVID-19 pandemic makes it vital that Missouri implements SB 514 immediately.



COVID-19 - Release of Incarcerated People

STAT: Decarceration can reduce Covid-19 spread. The surgeon general should make that call
Federal statute 42 U.S.C 264, which is part of the Public Welfare Code, authorizes the U.S. surgeon general to release, on a conditional basis, anyone in custody as long as the release has the “purpose of preventing the introduction, transmission or spread of such communicable diseases.” No one’s ever invoked the statute for this purpose, but this is the first time in more than a century we’re experiencing a pandemic and an incarceration crisis at the same time. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has the authority to release people from prisons and jails. That’s undisputed. Whether he will exercise that authority when asked to do so is the question.

The Sacramento Bee: COVID-19 gives California a chance to overhaul public safety. Will Gov. Newsom take it?
In an op-ed Lenore Anderson writes: Earlier this month, in response to grave threats posed by the spread of COVID-19, California officials alted admissions into state prisons and revealed plans to quickly release 3,500 people.Within a matter of weeks, our state’s prison population will likely decline by 10,000 people, representing the fastest decline in California history and the largest in the nation. We must expand and make permanent incarceration reductions, expand reentry assistance to support safe releases and stability and reallocate the savings back to local communities for programs proven to prevent crime from occurring in the first place.

Kaiser Health News: Jails And Prisons Spring Thousands To Prevent Coronavirus Outbreaks
In California, attorneys representing prisoners appealed to Gov. Gavin Newsom to approve targeted releases of older inmates and those with chronic medical conditions. In Michigan and Colorado, governors signed orders allowing for early releases of vulnerable inmates. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the state’s corrections department to compile a list of those eligible for a commutation of sentence. There is, however, no universal policy or process. Governors in Texas and Arizona have either denied or hampered efforts to enact early releases. Florida and Wisconsin officials announced they would no longer accept new inmates at state prisons but said nothing about releases, thus transferring the problem to city and county jails.

WJLA: Baltimore City, Marilyn Mosby, and others have been asking the governor to take swift action.
Baltimore City, Marilyn Mosby, and others have been asking Governor Hogan to take swift action. In a letter, more than 200 medical department staff at Johns Hopkins have also appealed to the governor, asking him to protect prison populations and staff. According to the state's latest numbers, more than 77-percent of cases in the Maryland prisons are among officers, staff and contract employees and according. Independent of the Governor, this week the Chief Justice of Maryland’s highest court ordered trial courts to identify and release at-risk inmates who pose no threat to public safety.



COVID-19 - Testing Within Corrections

Chattanooga Times Free Press: Tennessee begins COVID-19 testing for 406 prisoners at Bledsoe County Correctional after 12 test positive
The Tennessee Department of Correction on Saturday began testing of 406 prisoners at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville for the coronavirus. The action comes after 10 staffers at the 2,500-inmate facility located about 60 miles north of Chattanooga were found last week to be positive but asymptomatic for COVID-19, which led officials to begin contact tracing at the facility. That apparently led to another round of testing for a group of inmates which by Friday revealed that 12 prisoners at the regional prison were infected with the coronavirus



COVID-19 - Judiciary

Desert Sun: Judge: Riverside County Sheriff's Department fails to prove proper health care in jails amid coronavirus pandemic
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department has failed to answer basic questions about conditions in the county jail system amid the coronavirus pandemic, Central District of California Chief Judge Virginia Phillips said on April 14, ordering the department to engage in mediation with inmate advocates and ultimately go back to the drawing board to draft a plan that meets agreed-upon requirements.

New York Law Journal: Federal Courts Set Out Preconditions for Prisoner Release Because of COVID-19 Risk
With the pandemic raging, attorneys representing non-violent defendants in the federal system confront a vexing question: Where does traditional communal incarceration stand in the face of a pandemic that demands social distancing? For non-violent offenders, the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) could provide an avenue for vulnerable defendants facing, or serving, prison time to seek a sentence reduction based on individual health concerns. The FSA authorizes a sentencing judge to grant a motion by the BOP, or a defendant who has exhausted administrative remedies, for compassionate release—reducing a term of imprisonment or imposing a non-custodial sentence—if “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction.

MSN - New: Action needed to keep inmate population healthy, safe from COVID-19 | Opinion
In an opinion piece by Lane Borg of Oregon’s Office of Public Defense Services writes: While the State of Oregon is not currently pursuing early release of medically vulnerable adults in custody, all of us have a right to live in safe and healthy conditions, including people who are awaiting trial and those who have been convicted of a crime. During this crisis and always, Oregonians who are in jail or prison have the right to request release if they feel the conditions they are living in are unsafe.

Alaska Public Media: Amid pandemic, Alaska courts order no jail for most misdemeanors, new pathway for bail
Police around Alaska are under temporary, coronavirus-related orders to not jail anyone on misdemeanor charges except for domestic violence or stalking. And for inmates seeking release from jail, it is now possible to request a bail hearing due to concerns over coronavirus or the disease it causes, Covid-19. That’s according to two different court orders both aimed at reducing the number of people in Alaska’s jails, citing fears that coronavirus will be hard to control behind jailhouse walls, where close contact is unavoidable.

Metro News: Federal judge sides with state on jail practices during pandemic
A federal judge rejected a request for the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to release inmates from jails and prisons in light of the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chambers ruled Monday the state has a sufficient plan and policy for protecting facility populations from getting the virus.