A Message from COCHS
Since its inception, COCHS has worked to advance the health of some of the most vulnerable members of society by building community approaches to health care in jails, and to do this work in the broader service of justice and equity. This spring, and in particular the past two weeks, shine a painful spotlight on how much further we and our nation have to travel to reach these goals. COCHS recommits itself to working with partner organizations across the health and criminal justice sectors to address racism and inequality, and to build just systems that enable everyone in America to thrive.
US House of Representatives: The Heroes Act (Sec. 191107)
Last week, COCHS Weekly Update featured Sec 30110 of the HEROES Act which would, for the first time, allow for Medicaid benefits to be provided for incarcerated individuals thirty days prior to release. This week, we want to feature Sec. 191107 of the HEROES Act, the COVID-19 Correctional Facility Emergency Response Act of 2020. The goal of this provision is "to establish and implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, and stop the presence and spread of COVID–19 among arrestees, detainees, inmates, correctional facility staff, and visitors to the facilities." As public health officials have made clear, testing is the foundation to any effective disease mitigation strategy. This provision of the Act would ensure that the vulnerable individuals in our correctional system will know their status. As of now, there is no companion legislation in the Senate.
COCHS' Resource Update: Interactive Map of COVID-19 Statistics in Corrections
In fifty states, including Washington DC, all departments overseeing corrections ( or departments of public health ) are reporting statistics related to COVID-19 among incarcerated people and correctional staff. When this map was initiated on April 15, 35 states were reporting this data. In the case of Massachusetts two links to sources are available: reports from the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. New local jurisdictions include: San Diego County, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and New York City (NYC like Massachusetts has two links for COVID19 data: New York City Legal Aid and New York City Board of Correction).
COVID-19 Corrections and Mental Health
Behavioral Healthcare Executive: Deinstitutionalization and Decarceration Emerge as New COVID-19 Issues
In an op-ed, Ron Manderscheid, Executive Director of NACBHDD and NARMH writes: It is hugely ironic that deinstitutionalization from state psychiatric hospitals and decarceration from city and county jails—major objectives long sought by the behavioral health community—have turned into significant problems in the COVID-19 era. For many decades, our community has argued strongly and loudly that most persons with behavioral health conditions served in the state psychiatric hospitals would fare better and recover more quickly if served in community settings. As we have learned more about clusters of COVID-19 jails also serve as hotbeds for the virus, potentially leading to large clusters of cases and a significant number of deaths. Jails took two actions: first, close the front door to new entrants and, second, open the back door so that larger numbers of residents could be released. Unfortunately community behavioral healthcare programs are woefully unprepared to meet the extensive needs of these people.
Frontline: Colorado Faces Millions More in Fines As Jail Mental Health Evaluations Stall Amid Pandemic
State of Colorado officials were optimistic they would be paying millions less in fines this year for violating the civil rights of inmates who are awaiting mental health evaluations. Then, COVID-19 changed everything. The state has been ordered to pay up to $10 million in fines annually as part of a legal judgment that found the state is taking too long to evaluate criminal defendants to determine if they are mentally stable enough to stand trial. But when COVID-19 hit, the department had to dramatically reduce the number of people getting treatment at the state mental hospital. State data shows inpatient admissions shrunk from 71 to 10 by the end of April.
Tyler Morning Telegraph: Plaguing Prisons Part 4: Pandemic adds new complications for jails struggling to help inmates with severe mental illness
In 2015 more than 55,000 people incarcerated in Texas received treatment in the public mental health system before their arrest, according to the Policy Research Project on Correctional Oversight by the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. With the spread of COVID-19, waitlists were impacted as facilities began to make procedural changes in anticipation of the virus. A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services said transfers were briefly delayed earlier this year in order to allow for the creation of isolation units and introduce social distancing to the hospital units.
National Library of Medicine: Identification, Referral, and Services for Individuals With Serious Mental Illness Across Multiple Jails (paid subscription)
A study indicating that best practices for identifying seriously mentally ill (SMI) within in jails are often not employed. Using a validated screening instrument to identify SMI produced consistent results as opposed to staff identification which often varied substantially. Staff identified process lead to a greater variance in subsequent services.
COVID-19 Perception of Incarcerated People
USA Today: In coronavirus crisis, lessons in humanity toward America's incarcerated
Historically, the American public has overwhelmingly rejected any semblance of sympathy for incarcerated people, with harsh and misleading tough-on-crime tropes like “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” But the winds have gradually been changing over the past decade. In fact, criminal justice reform seems to be the only issue engendering a bipartisan consensus these days. The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to change the terms of the discussion. This transformation could thereby enable the acceleration of a broader and deeper process of long-term decarceration based on rational principles involving public safety, cost and genuine justice.
COVID-19 Correctional Staff and Health Providers
AMA: COVID-19 behind bars - different ways to support correctional physicians
Timothy Smith a correspondant for the AMM lists different ways for physicians outside of corrections to support those physicians treating people behind the walls: include correctional facilities in your county's pandemic planning; plan ahead on what to do if correctional health professionals fall ill; push for public health-focused decarceration; rally geriatricians and palliative care doctors to help.
Daily News-Miner: Health, corrections officials call for more safety measures as state reopens
In Alaska, Medical personnel and Department of Corrections officials raised concerns during a joint meeting of the House State Affairs and Health committees on Wednesday over steps they think should be taken to protect the public and inmates. The Anchorage Correctional Complex reported its first case of COVID-19 in an inmate last week. And an inmate tested positive at the Goose Creek Correctional Center in the Mat-Su region. Three correctional centers have reported confirmed cases, the third being Lemon Creek Creek Correctional Facility in Juneau where 11 prison workers have tested positive since April, leading the facility to conduct multiple rounds of testing to insure inmates minimize potential exposure.
COVID-19 Correctional Healthcare Vendors and Private Prisons
Michigan Radio: Number of infected prisoners jumps as state nears completion of coronavirus testing
The Michigan Department of Corrections is nearing its goal of testing all prisoners in state facilities but the private health care provider, Corizon, was supposed to notify prisoners of their status. It failed to do so. Department of Corrections ordered Corizon to release the information immediately. Corrections has had previous problems with the private health care provider. The state has fined Corizon for violating requirements for timely care in the past. Prisoners have complained they don't get the tests or other treatments they need for some chronic conditions.
VIBE: Jay Z's Team Roc Takes Legal Step To Improve Healthcare For Mississippi Inmates
Jay Z and Team Roc, are backing a new lawsuit on behalf of inmates at Mississippi’s Parchman prison. The suit accuses Centene Corp. of providing substandard healthcare to inmates and downplaying the risk of COVID-19 infection within the prison. The lawsuit, filed in Delaware Chancery Court on Wednesday (May 27) by Centene shareholder, Laura Wood, seeks basic answers to basic questions about grave injustices perpetrated behind prison walls. Centene is the the parent company of Centurion, which provides healthcare to prisons around the country.
VT Digger: Inmate’s lawsuit settled with more Covid-19 precautions for prisoners in Mississippi
A lawsuit brought on behalf of a Vermont inmate has ended with additional Covid-19 precautions to prevent the spread of the virus at the privately run prison in Mississippi where he is currently serving his sentence. Vermont’s Prisoners’ Rights Office, representing inmate Brian Butler, filed the lawsuit in April in Washington County Superior civil court against James Baker, the state’s interim corrections commissioner. The Vermont Department of Corrections contracts with CoreCivic, one of the country’s largest private prison operators, to house inmates at the company’s Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi,
COVID-19 Correctional Budgets
The Bismark Tribune: North Dakota prison officials seek $2.5 million in virus aid
North Dakota corrections officials are seeking up to $2.5 million in federal COVID-19 aid to give temporary pay increases to employees who are required to be in close contact with prisoners and others during the pandemic. Eligible employees would include guards in the state’s prison system and parole and probation officials, he said. Four inmates and one staff member have tested positive for COVID-19, and all were at the state penitentiary in Bismarck, the agency said.
San Francisco Chronicle: Gavin Newsom wants to close prisons as coronavirus shreds California’s budget
The coronavirus pandemic and state budget woes are pushing California toward its first prison closures in nearly two decades.In a revised budget plan unveiled this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed shuttering two state prisons within the next three years, ultimately saving the state about $400 million annually.Now the state is facing a projected $54 billion deficit through the next fiscal year, and tens of billions more in years to come, because of the pandemic-induced economic recession.
COVID-19 Corrections and Transmission
The Southern Illinoisan: Senators call for investigation into Pulaski County jail amid COVID-19 outbreak
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are calling on federal oversight agencies to investigate conditions at the Pulaski County Detention Center amid a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility. The senators say in the letter that Pulaski County’s jail, which houses ICE detainees under a contract with the federal government, lacks the physical layout for proper social distancing. As a result, they say, the facility has experienced a rapid spread of [COVID-19] among detainees, some of whom have preexisting conditions causing increased risks from the disease.
Chicago Tribune: Officials see signs COVID-19 is contained at Cook County Jail, while experts caution measures need to remain in place
Fewer than 100 of the 4,000 detainees housed at Cook County Jail had tested positive and were in isolation for COVID-19, down from one-day totals of in early April of nearly 300. Another key metric for jail and county health officials is the facility’s test-positivity rate, which they said has fallen to 6% as testing at the jail as expanded to include both symptomatic and asymptomatic detainees. Cermak Health Care services had been monitoring health care alerts since January about the pending crisis. As soon as the first positive case was detected in Chicago on Jan. 24, jail and health officials started screening new detainees, isolating and masking anyone with flu-like symptoms.
The Sacramento Bee: Coronavirus updates: Butte County inmate exposes dozens to virus; Placer inmates test positive
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office announced on Friday that one inmate at the county jail tested positive for coronavirus. The inmate was recently arrested for a serious offense and was booked into the jail while not displaying symptoms, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The inmate was screened for symptoms, per jail protocol, and housed in the facility with 26 other inmates for two days. By Friday, the inmate was complaining of shortness of breath, a common symptom of coronavirus, and after evaluation by jail medical staff, was sent to a nearby hospital to be tested for coronavirus.
Los Angeles Times: 700 Chino inmates to be transferred as coronavirus sweeps prison
Amid a growing coronavirus outbreak at the California Institution for Men in Chino, nearly 700 vulnerable inmates will be transferred to a dozen other prisons around the state, officials said. The prisoners who will be moved have all tested negative but have medical histories that could make a COVID-19 infection potentially life-threatening.
NPR: As COVID-19 Cuts Deadly Path Through Indiana Prisons, Inmates Say Symptoms Ignored
Since the start of the pandemic, prisoners and their families have contradicted state officials about the conditions inside Indiana prisons. Many inmates report they've had no way to protect themselves from close contact with other inmates and staff members. They believe contracting the disease is inevitable. Indeed, 85% percent of the prisoners tested at Westville have been positive for the virus. As of May 22, at least 18 Indiana prisoners have died from confirmed or presumed coronavirus infections, and 650 inmates have tested positive for the virus.
COVID-19 Testing in Corrections
Reflector: Mass testing begins at second North Carolina prison
Mass COVID-19 testing began on May 29 at a second North Carolina state prison, keeping to a policy of making widespread diagnoses only when incremental case numbers for those behind bars warrant it. The department said testing is occuring at Caswell because 19 prisoners and 19 staff members there have now tested positive since mid-April. It's also because the cases aren't isolated to one section of the prison, the release said, but rather offenders in 12 of its 14 dormitories. A nurse at Caswell who died earlier this month had tested positive weeks before.
WHSV: Dept. of Corrections says they've tested more than a 3rd of all inmates
The Virginia Department of Corrections says they've tested more than one third of the inmates in the state's correctional system for COVID-19. According to the department, most of the state's 29,000 offenders have shown no symptoms, but they've been steadily conducting point prevalence testing facility by facility to catch any cases before symptoms develop. They say they've been able to test on a scale that most congregate settings, from prisons to nursing homes, haven't, and they attribute it to the work of doctors, nurses, and medical staff at the Department of Corrections.
COVID-19 Release and Reentry of Incarcerated People
ABA Journal: Criminal justice system should consider public health during COVID-19 pandemic, groups say
Several national organizations issued joint recommendations for how the criminal justice system can incorporate public health approaches when responding to the novel coronavirus crisis. One recommendation focuses on releasing inmates based on public health recommendations and criteria. The groups contend that despite community concerns about letting people out of jail and prison in response to COVID-19, noting that court-ordered and executive-ordered staged releases of people have been accomplished without increased crime rates. Another recommendation focuses on implementing existing innovations, including specialty courts and reentry services, to help integrate public health approaches in the criminal justice system.
ProPublica: Bill Barr Promised to Release Prisoners Threatened by Coronavirus — Even as the Feds Secretly Made It Harder for Them to Get Out
Even as the Justice Department announced that federal prisons would release vulnerable, nonviolent inmates to home confinement to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the agency was quietly adopting a policy that makes it harder for inmates to qualify for release, not easier. Celebrity prisoners like former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort have been granted home detention, but a secret Bureau of Prisons policy has kept all but 1.8% of federal inmates behind bars, where the virus rages.
The Hill: COVID-19 crisis highlights the urgency of prison reentry reform
In an op-ed, ShanaKay Salmon writes: increase in releases helps slow the spread [of Covid-19] but does not solve the challenges of reentry. Securing employment is near impossible given the economic decline and stay at home orders. The affordable housing crisis persists, as do restrictions on public housing for people with criminal records. Food insecurity and lack of access to proper health care are heightened. Social services do not have the capacity or funding to provide people with the adequate help and services they need to stay healthy and survive outside of prison. Without policies and resources in place to assist people as they return home, these men and women are being tossed from a pandemic frying pan right into the fire.
The Colorado Sun: Colorado governor defends prison system, accuses ACLU of using coronavirus to push its agenda
Gov. Jared Polis defended steps taken by his administration to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in Colorado prisons, saying groups urging him to do more to protect inmates are using the public health crisis to advance a broader agenda. Polis’ remarks came just hours after the ACLU of Colorado, an ally of Colorado Democrats, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of inmates claiming the governor and his Department of Corrections aren’t doing enough to prevent coronavirus outbreaks.More than 500 inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado have tested positive for the disease and two have died. As many as 24 staff members at the facility also have been infected.
Insider NJ: ACLU-NJ: Lifesaving Bill Would Slow Coronavirus Spread by Lowering Prison Population in NJ, Which Has Country’s Highest Death Rate from COVID-19
The ACLU-NJ, Salvation and Social Justice, and New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement strongly praised S2519, introduced by Senator Nellie Pou, creates a public health emergency credit expediting release for people in prisons who are due to complete their sentences within a year. The credits will reduce sentences, including minimum sentences, by six months for each month of the declared state of emergency, with a maximum sentence reduction of one year. The legislation will apply to adults and juveniles, with an exception for a subset of those convicted of sex crimes and receiving treatment for compulsive and repetitive behavior.
KJZZ: Pima County Urges Public Health Officials To Reduce Prison Populations
Representatives of Pima County are urging public health officials and the Arizona Department of Corrections to reduce prison populations in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Community leaders made a call to action Wednesday after several requests sent to the DOC and the Governor’s Office were ignored. Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country, and crowded prisons in areas like Pima County have made physical distancing guidelines virtually impossible to follow.