COCHS' Weekly Update: May 26, 2020

Medicaid and Incarcerated People

United States House of Representatives: H.R. 6800 - The Heroes Act
On May 15, the United States House of Representatives passed The Heroes Act (H.R. 6800) which included a key provision relating to the health of justice-involved individuals. Section 30110 of this legislation would amend the Social Security Act to allow for Medicaid to pay for services to detained individuals thirty days before release. If the Senate were to also include this provision in its legislation, it would result in a substantial step forward to removing the discontinuities in the health care system caused by the inmate exception.

Corrections and Mental Health

KXAN Investigates: Locked In Limbo
A series of podcasts and articles that explores how mentally ill people are held in Texas' county jails waiting for beds to open in state hospitals. In 2019, the number of people stuck on the state's waitlist reached historic levels. In Texas, if a person is found incompetent to stand trial, the state is most often required to send them to a state hospital for treatment, called competency restoration. A person cannot proceed through the criminal justice system without being able to understand and aid in their own defense.

The Independent: Santa Rita Jail Budget Increases to Improve Conditions
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors last week approved spending $318 million over the next three years to buttress staffing at its controversial Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and to improve mental health programs for inmates. The board's 3-2 vote on May 12 followed a lengthy meeting where dozens of callers – including psychologists, psychiatrists and members of community social-justice organizations – opposed the funding, saying the money would be better spent on mental health programs outside the jail.

COVID-19 Cases in Corrections

Voice of Orange County: The Hidden Victims of Covid-19
Across the country some prisoners are quarantined to an extent resembling solitary confinement if they test positive for health reasons. Although solitary confinement is not the most ideal situation, it is a viable option in order to minimize the spread of the virus. However, using solitary confinement as a punishment for inmates’ concerns for their health seems to border on violating the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.

WREG Memphis: The most alarming coronavirus numbers in some states are in prisons and nursing homes
Across federal and state prisons, thousands of inmates have tested positive for the virus — many of whom showed no symptoms when they were infected. In Ohio, more than 20% of the people infected with coronavirus are prisoners. And in Colorado, the state’s largest outbreak is ina correctional facility. In Arkansas, almost half of all of the state’s cases are in prisons and nursing homes. More than1,000 inmates have tested positive for the virus, according to Dr. Nate Smith, the Director of the Arkansas Department of Health, and 876 of them are in a single correctional facility.

US News and World Report: America's Prisons, Jails Are Breeding Grounds for COVID-19
Experts say an outbreak inside a correctional facility is a public health hazard for surrounding communities. Corrections officers are regularly exposed during an inmate outbreak, and could potentially spread the virus once they leave work. In addition, the incarcerated are constantly being jailed and then released, creating a churn that could easily pass infections into the community.

The New York Times: Virus Raged at City Jails, Leaving 1,259 Guards Infected and 6 Dead
The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on New York City’s 9,680 correction officers and their supervisors, who, like the police and firefighters, are considered essential workers. So far, 1,259 have caught the virus and six have died, along with five other jail employees and two correctional health workers. The officers’ union contends that the death of one other guard is also the result of Covid-19. Correction officers and union officials have blamed the jail system’s management for the high number of infections. The union points to the department’s practice of asking officers to return to work after they recovered from the illness even if they had not yet tested negative for the virus.

The Gothamist: NYC Jails Oversight Agency Warns Of Second COVID-19 Wave If Inmate Population Jumps Back Pre-Virus Levels
The outbreak in NYC jails grew from one to more than 100 within days in March. Three people in custody have died—in addition to at least one who died after he was released by the correction department. Eleven DOC employees have died as well as two jails' health staff, while 1,546 DOC and jails' health staff have tested positive for the virus. New York City jails' oversight agency warned of a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths if the number of people incarcerated rises once again following unprecedented releases to mitigate the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 Testing in Corrections

VT Digger: Corrections changes stance on inmate testing after ACLU blasted policy
The state Department of Corrections is changing its mass coronavirus testing policy and will now test both staff and inmates at the state’s prisons. The previous policy as part of a ""mitigation strategy"" was to only test staff in an initial phase. A single positive test among staff would trigger testing of any staff member not already tested as well as all inmates at that site. Now, inmates won’t have to wait until a staff member tests positive to be included in testing at a facility.

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland to test all detainees, staff at prisons and juvenile facilities for coronavirus
Six state prison inmates in Maryland have died from the coronavirus so far, and hundreds of inmates and employees have tested positive for the virus. Juvenile facilities have also experienced outbreaks. Dozens of children and staff tested positive. A union representing correctional officers has repeatedly pressed for more protective equipment and testing in the facilities. Advocates for prisoners and detainees have pushed for a better response and increased testing, as well. In response to these statistics, Maryland will undertake universal testing at state prisons and juvenile centers, Gov. Larry Hogan announced

COVID-19 Prevention in Corrections

San Jose Spotlight: Santa Clara County jails face challenges curbing spread of coronavirus
Sheriff Laurie Smith announced earlier this month that a third inmate in the county who showed no symptoms tested positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, 207 inmates had been tested for the virus at the Main Jail in San Jose and Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas. To reduce the risk of infections, the Sheriff’s Office has mandated that staff wear masks. Smith told the Board of Supervisors May 5 that it has also provided masks for all inmates. Jail officials are distributing hygiene kits, and while staff cannot supply hand sanitizer to all inmates due to its alcohol content. According to jail officials, they are also screening every person entering the jails for their temperature. A team with crime analysts is tracing transmission among staff and inmates. New inmates are quarantined for 14 days, and tested for the virus before moving into the general population.

COVID-19 Early Release of Incarcerated People

Patriot News: Op-ed - Pennsylvania has too many people in prison
John Hargreaves Director of Volunteer, Pennsylvania Prison Society commends Gov. Tom Wolf for reducing the number of inmates in state prisons due to the COVID-19 outbreak, referring to it as a wise policy. He states that reduction ordered by Wolf has not led to an increase in crime. To further expand the order to include elderly inmates would be a great service to taxpayers and a welcome gesture of humanity to these senior citizens.

West Hawaii Today: Jail releases possibly more dangerous than outbreak
Letters by the Big Island’s prosecutor and a pair of Oahu legislators object to the manner in which inmates are being released pursuant to a state Supreme Court order that seeks to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in Hawaii’s jails and prisons. A May 12 letter by Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth to Daniel R. Foley, a retired appeals judge tasked by the high court to oversee the reduction in inmate population in Hawaii’s historically crowded correctional facilities, said some of the offenders released did not fit into the original group of offenders sought to be released.

ABC News: Jail in virus hot spot holds dozens authorized for release
Maryland's Prince George’s County jail is a COVID-19 hot spot. It is detaining more than 100 prisoners who have been authorized or ordered by a court to be released, according to civil rights attorneys who sued over jail conditions during the pandemic. The jail is holding at least 113 prisoners who have been authorized for release by a state court but haven’t been cleared for release by the county’s pretrial services department. Prince George’s County, which abuts the nation’s capital, has had 12,240 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the most of any Maryland county, and 424 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday, according to the state Health Department.

NBC News: Early release of Cohen and Manafort shows how unfair prison system is, experts say
Michael Cohen is just the latest well-connected federal prisoner to be sent home early because of the coronavirus, even though he has served only a third of his sentence — well shy of the 50 percent threshold federal officials often cite in denying requests for early release.New data show that Cohen, along with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, released last week, are among the relatively few federal prisoners to win early release in the seven weeks since Attorney General William Barr cited the pandemic in ordering more federal prisoners to be let out.

The Hill: GPS devices used on accused violent offenders deactivated over coronavirus budget cuts
A GPS ankle bracelet program used to protect victims of domestic violence and sex crimes was deactivated earlier this month in Memphis, Tenn., due to budget cuts partially caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The primary purpose of the GPS tracking was to monitor the wearers to ensure they do not enter close proximity with their alleged victims, otherwise alerting law enforcement. The policedepartment tried to prolong the program by spending $140,000 of its own money for the current fiscal year in an effort to phase it out, but could not afford it when the COVID-19 outbreak hit the state

COVID-19 Courts

Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Federal judge declines to alter Arkansas prisons' approach to virus
A federal judge declined to intervene in the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic by forcing prison officials to provide greater access to hand-sanitizer and other hygiene supplies, spacing for inmates and releases for those who are most at risk of falling seriously ill. Inmates at three state prisons, aided by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and Disability Rights Arkansas, sued the prison system last month over what they alleged was a mismanaged response to the virus that put prisoners’ health at risk and violated their constitutional rights. More than 1,000 state inmates have tested positive for the virus, and eight have died.