COCHS Weekly Update: June 09, 2020

Abuse and Deaths in Corrections

Fox 4: Advocates urge Missouri to renew investigation into black inmate’s death similar to George Floyd’s
The Missouri NAACP and black lawmakers on Friday urged a new investigation into the death of an African American jail inmate who died in 2017 in a similar circumstance to George Floyd — with a white law enforcement officer’s knee on his neck. A wrongful death lawsuit in 2018 said Hutcheson jammed his knee against Sanders’ neck and kept it there for up to three minutes, even as a police officer urged him to stop. Sanders fell into unconsciousness and died. Missouri’s attorney general at the time, Josh Hawley, investigated but declined to file charges after medical experts concluded that Sanders died of “excited delirium,” not from the knee to the neck or other efforts to control him.During a news conference Friday, Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. urged Mississippi County Prosecuting Attorney Darren Cann to file murder charges against Hutcheson and other officers.

Injustice Watch: Alabama prison death highlights pattern of officials promoting bad bosses
Correctional officers allegedly beat and hogtied Billy Smith at Elmore prison in November 2017, leaving him screaming for help as supervisors worked nearby. Lt. Kenny Waver waited at least an hour before sending Smith to a nearby prison health facility with two officers, according to a confidential state report obtained by Injustice Watch. One officer, Jeremy Singleton, had allegedly abused Smith earlier. When the officers returned Smith two hours later, witnesses said Smith was unresponsive, snoring with open eyes, and bruised across his body. Smith died 26 days later. A state autopsy attributed his death to blunt force brain trauma.

North Carolina Health News: North Carolina jail suicides reached record high last year, amid calls for reform
In the first month of the new year, Melissa Middleton Rice, 49, was left alone in the booking room at the Jackson County Detention Center. Nearly an hour later, an officer would check on her for the first time, even though on a closed circuit monitored by guards, she had not moved for 40 minutes. It was too late — Rice, in view of the camera, monitored by staff, would become the third person in five years to die by suicide at the jail in Sylva. Rice was one of twenty people who died by suicide while incarcerated inside a North Carolina jail last year — up from 12 deaths in 2018 according to a report released earlier this week by Disability Rights NC. Disability Rights legal advocates say their deaths highlight the critical need for reform of outdated state jail policies, which currently remain in limbo in the state legislature.

COVID-19 Related Deaths in Corrections

The Gazette: 3rd COVID-19 death at Sterling prison adds to widening outbreak
A third inmate at Sterling Correctional Facility in northeastern Colorado has died of COVID-19. The inmate’s body was discovered days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a class-action lawsuit accusing Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado's executive director of corrections of inflicting “cruel and unusual punishment” on prisoners by failing to put in place policies to protect those who are medically vulnerable from dying of COVID-19.

The Dallas Morning News: Prison inmate was 8 days from release after 20 years behind bars. Then he got the virus
He called his family back in New York to tell them he would be released from Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth in May. He was beyond excited. After 20 years behind bars, he would finally stop being a number and get back his name: Vernon Adderley. His release date was set for May 19. But eight days before that, a doctor called the family with terrible news. Adderley had been in the hospital for two weeks. In a FaceTime call, the doctor gave Jermaine a look at his brother. Vernon was in a bed with his eyes closed. He was dead. The family didn’t even know he was sick.

Los Angeles Times: First pregnant woman and first jail inmate die from coronavirus, L.A. County officials say
Los Angeles County officials Monday reported an additional 22 coronavirus-linked deaths, including a pregnant woman who had tested positive for the virus and had underlying health issues and a person who was incarcerated in a jail facility. Both deaths are the first of their kind in the county related to COVID-19, health officials said. At least 228 pregnant women in L.A. County have tested positive for the virus and 79% of them were symptomatic.

COVID-19 Protests and Transmission

PEW: Arrests, Tear Gas May Be Bigger COVID-19 Worry Than Protests
As demonstrators turn out en masse to protest police brutality against black people in cities across the country, many observers have worried about a resurgence of COVID-19. But some public health experts say the actions of police — tear-gassing protesters, arresting thousands and boxing protests into confined areas — may do more to contribute to the spread of the virus.

Buzz Feed: Police Arrested More Than 11,000 People At Protests Across The US
Link to article mentioned by PEW story above: Police across the US have arrested more than 11,000 people — a remarkable sum, yet a conservative count — during protests against police brutality sparked by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

The New York Times: Despite Virus, Hundreds Arrested in Unrest Are Held in Cramped Jails
In the week since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, hundreds of people arrested in New York City — some while looting, others while clashing with the police during largely peaceful demonstrations — have been detained in cramped cells for more than 24 hours, their health at risk in the midst of a pandemic, defense lawyers said. On Thursday morning, more than 380 people — waiting either in cells at Police Headquarters, in local precincts and in a Manhattan jail — had yet to be brought before a judge. Nearly 70 percent of them had been waiting for more than 24 hours, including one defendant who had been waiting 80 hours, according to court officials and the Legal Aid Society.

COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health in Corrections

Psychology Today: COVID-19 Is Harming Mental Health in Prisons
A new paper in Medicine, Science, and the Law finds that the mental health of people detained and working in prisons has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing from past literature and recent reports in the UK, the authors advocate for increased attention to mental health for prisoners and prison workers facing COVID-19 risks. Underfunding and overcrowding in prisons put prisoners at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, the authors note. Inadequate equipment, weak social distancing, and poor infection control causes fear and anxiety.

COVID-19 Infection Rate in Corrections

Health Affairs: Spread Of COVID-19 From Jail Represents 15.9 Percent Of Chicago Community Cases
In the United States, jails and penitentiaries are severely overcrowded, making infection control difficult. In this context, it has been widely observed that the COVID-19 pandemic presents serious risks to both inmates and those who guard them. A new study, released as a Fast Track Ahead Of Print article by Health Affairs, examines how incarceration also presents a threat to American communities beyond jails and prisons. Aggressive arrests and subsequent cycling of detainees through jails threatens the health of communities around the country.

Route Fifty: Prosecutorial Discretion: The Prosecutor’s Role in Curbing Infections in Prisons
In op-ed, Alvin Bragg who teaches criminal law at New York Law School and was a state and federal prosecutor, writes: prosecutors aren’t largely in charge of prison release decisions, but they still hold considerable sway with government officials that ultimately can make those decisions and with the public. In New Jersey, prosecutors and defense lawyers entered into an agreement to release about 700 inmates serving sentences in county jails. For those who must remain incarcerated, prosecutors should advocate for safe conditions inside jails and prisons. This includes keeping facilities sanitary by ensuring access to clean water and soap for hand washing. Relatedly, prosecutors should advocate that prisoners aren’t placed in facility-wide lockdowns or solitary confinement as a means to prevent suspected or confirmed cases of infection.

Daily Press: 986 inmates infected with COVID-19 at Chuckawalla prison in Blythe
Of the more than 2,200 inmates at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, Ca, 986 have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Saturday, May 30th. That’s more than six times the number of inmates who had tested positive at that facility last week, and the most of any facility in California’s prison system. On May 15, the first inmates tested positive for the virus and cases steadily grew during the rest of the month. But cases skyrocketed from 148 on May 26 to 986 as of Saturday. About 44% of the facility’s population is now infected.

WFMZ News: Fed lawyer: COVID-19 at federal jail worse than reported
The true number of COVID-19 infections among inmates at Manhattan’s federal lockup was likely about seven times what the Bureau of Prisons has previously publicly reported, a government lawyer conceded Tuesday. The bureau's website says five inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center have had the virus. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean-David Barnea, representing the MCC's warden at a court hearing, said at least 34 inmates had been quarantined with symptoms because they were believed to have it.

San Francisco Chronicle: Coronavirus and prisons: San Quentin reports more than a dozen inmates infected
The coronavirus has reached San Quentin State Prison, where more than a dozen inmates have been infected by the virus, according to state prison officials. San Quentin, the oldest penitentiary in California and site of the state’s only Death Row, had no cases among inmates until reporting its first on June 1, according to the corrections department. The number rose to eight on June 2 and 14 on June 3. Six employees at San Quentin have also tested positive for the virus and since returned to work, according to the corrections department.

Fresno Bee: Coronavirus in prisons: See which area of the San Joaquin Valley is the most impacted
The number of coronavirus cases in Kings County more than doubled over the past week, fueled by major spikes in positive tests for COVID-19 infections among the inmate population at Avenal State Prison. With about 4,140 inmates incarcerated at Avenal this week, the number of infected inmates at Avenal represents about 20% of the prison’s population. It’s the second-highest number of inmate COVID-19 cases among the state’s prison system behind Chuckwalla State Prison in Blythe, where almost 1,000 prisoners have caught the coronavirus. The inmate cases at Avenal are in addition to 50 prison staffers who have contracted the virus, none of whom have yet recovered to return to work.

Fox 26 News: Protesters gather outside Avenal State Prison as coronavirus spreads to 700+ there
Protestors gathered outside Avenal State Prison in California, trying to bring attention to a coronavirus outbreak there that has spread to more than 700 people. Protestors held signs that said things like, ""Dorms are the incarceration virus,"" and ""Care not cages"" and ""Our loved ones deserve fair healthcare. They are human not just a number."" One car had the words ""COVID 19 + Prison = Death"" on its windshield.

KTSM: 23 new virus cases reported in Doña Ana County, Otero Prison outbreak worsens
New Mexico State Health officials reported 23 additional COVID-19 cases in Doña Ana County Saturday, bringing the total number of positive cases county-wide to 558. In addition to the Doña Ana County cases, the state says five additional inmates at the Otero County Prison tested positive for the virus. The Otero County Prison, which holds both federal and state inmates, is the site of a major statewide outbreak. A total of 494 inmates have tested positive to date, and an additional 92 immigrant detainees at the nearby Otero County ICE Processing Center also tested positive for the virus.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

The CT Mirror: ACLU and state settles COVID-19 prison lawsuit
The ACLU of Connecticut has reached an agreement with the state over its COVID-19 lawsuit filed to protect incarcerated people from the virus. The agreement, which has not yet been accepted by the court, requires the Department of Correction to prioritize elderly and medically vulnerable incarcerated people for release and distribute antiseptic cleaning supplies, soap and personal protective equipment to inmates. It also mandates the department stop imposing punitive measures on people who have tested, or are presumed, positive for the virus, like barring them from showering or using the phones.

Carolina Public Press: Spotty information as judge nears crucial decision on NC prisons
A Superior Court judge is deciding whether North Carolina’s prison conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic are constitutional. If he decides that the conditions meet state constitutional standards, the lawsuit seeking the release of people from prison will likely be dismissed. If he decides that conditions are in fact cruel or unusual, the judge has some latitude in deciding how to proceed. This could include appointing an expert to help the court direct the release of people from prison to protect them from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Advocacy organizations across the country have accused states and key institutions like prison systems of hiding information or of intentionally limiting the amount of testing in order to mask the true scope of the problem. Leah Kang, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, leveled a similar complaint against the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state’s prisons, in a court hearing last week.

Correctional Healthcare Vendors

Tri-City Herald: Benton jail’s ex-healthcare company destroyed evidence in teen’s death
Marc A. Moreno died in his Benton County, WA, jail cell in March 2016 not having had a drop of water or bite of food for at least five days. The 18-year-old had been in the throes of a mental health crisis but, since he had several outstanding misdemeanors warrants, he was locked up instead of taken to the hospital. The two healthcare companies that provided medical staff for the county jail were put on notice in January 2018 that Moreno’s parents planned to sue. That claim came with an order to preserve all paper and electronic records related to Moreno’s care. But 22 months later, after multiple promises the documents would be forthcoming, lawyers for the merged companies now known as Wellpath admitted they had no evidence to hand over as part of a federal lawsuit. All of the documents were destroyed when the for-profit jail healthcare company implemented a new, sweeping document retention policy.