COCHS Weekly Update: July 21, 2020

COVID-19 The Reentry Act

The Center For Community Solutions: The Reentry Act: reducing spread and recidivism during COVID-19
Over the last few months, cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed in prisons and jails across the United States, accounting for more than 50,000 cases, nationwide. Ohio knows this trend all too well, and is even subject to prisoner-led legal action, with outbreaks at Marion, Elkton and Pickaway Correctional Institutions, facilities which are currently overcrowded and understaffed. Tucked away into the HEROES Act is a relatively underreported but critically important Medicaid provision which could help citizens returning to society after incarceration connect to critical medical supports.

COVID-19 Transmission

APM Reports: Failing to protect Black lives - How Washington, D.C., mishandled its response to the coronavirus
In late March the novel coronavirus was ripping through Washington, D.C.’s St. Elizabeths Hospital, the city-run psychiatric facility. The city’s lax response to the virus’s sweep through St. Elizabeths was not an aberration. The outbreak was emblematic of Washington, D.C.’s slow and passive response to the pandemic, especially for Black residents. The city did little to stop deadly outbreaks in its jail and psychiatric hospital. A federal judge would eventually force city officials to change procedures.

AP News: How the coronavirus spread through one immigration facility
Gregory Arnold walked into the warden’s office April 1 as the novel coronavirus ripped through one of the largest immigration detention centers in the United States. Waiting with about 40 guards to begin his shift, he heard a captain say face masks were prohibited. Incredulous, he and a guard who recently gave birth wanted to hear it from the boss. Arnold told Warden Christopher LaRose that he was 60 years old and lived with an asthmatic son.

Chicago Tribune: New CDC review finds Cook County sheriff, staff successfully stemmed rising tide of COVID-19 cases at jail
The Cook County Jail successfully beat back its outbreak of COVID-19 even as the virus spread dramatically outside its walls, according to a new paper authored by medical officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various county and city offices. Earlier in the pandemic, the jail had “one of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in a congregate setting described to date,” according to the document. But after expanded testing, mask-wearing, limiting detainee movement and opening up previously unused buildings to allow for greater distancing, the spread within the jail slowed down significantly compared with Chicago at large.

Courrier & Press: Correction facilities and COVID-19 spread
In an op-ed, Dr. Richard Feldman, M.D. a former Indiana state health commissioner writes: The public has little interest in prison health and politicians don’t win elections based on advocacy for those who have offended society. But correctional facilities are not isolated from the community-at-large with inmates, staff, vendors, and visitors entering and leaving these facilities and potentially serving as vectors for COVID-19 community spread.

COVID-19 Voices of Incarcerated People and Their Families

North Carolina Health News: A year without visits: COVID-19’s impact on children with incarcerated parents
Correctional facilities throughout the state have shut down in-person visitations to help quell the spread of COVID-19, creating one more roadblock for kids trying to navigate the criminal justice system to stay connected with a parent. Though some jails offer video visitation, most prisons in the state do not. Many children already face barriers to maintaining a consistent relationship with a parent inside the justice system. Phone calls to jails and prisons often cost money, parents can be housed in facilities hours away from children who may lack access to transportation, and research shows visits with a parent behind facility plexiglass can be stressful for young children.

Your Basin: Several Oregon prisons on Oregon Health Authority's workplace outbreak list
It should come as no surprise that Nellie Love misses her fiancé who is incarcerated at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla. Love is now worried about him, as well. Love has heard from both her fiancé and other women with loved ones in the prison that guards are not taking COVID-19 seriously. ""I've been hearing they're not wearing masks in there at all,"" said Love. ""The guards, any staff members, aren't wearing masks."" It is a troubling claim considering there is an outbreak at Two Rivers. According to data released by the Oregon Department of Corrections, 15 people at Two Rivers, both staff and adults in custody, have tested positive for COVID-19. The Oregon State Penitentiary is dealing with 184 cases. Snake River Correctional Institution has 117 cases.

Farmington Daily Times: Inmates rioted at county jail, barricaded on upper floor armed with broken toilet shards
Regional law enforcement agencies and emergency medical and fire units responded in force to the San Juan County Adult Detention Center July 13 to quell a riot that led to damage inside the facility and one injury to an inmate. Jail staff tried to create a dialogue on July 12 as detainees met with officials and complained about a reduction in hot meals, and access to COVID-19 testing and test results. But there is no provision in the state's notification system for informing people who are in custody of their test results, and that lack of results was one spark for the riot.

COVID-19 Release

The Marshall Project: Prison Populations Drop by 100,000 During Pandemic
There has been a major drop in the number of people behind bars in the U.S. Between March and June. But this year’s decrease has not come because of efforts to release vulnerable prisoners for health reasons and to manage the spread of the virus raging in prisons. Instead, head counts have dropped largely because prisons stopped accepting new prisoners from county jails to avoid importing the virus, court closures meant fewer people were receiving sentences and parole officers sent fewer people back inside for low-level violations.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

Public Policy Institute of California: Addressing the Outbreak in San Quentin: Lessons from 1918
A 1919 research study by San Quentin’s controversial resident physician described three influenza waves in April, October, and November 1918. Each wave started after an infected county jail inmate transferred to San Quentin. Contact tracing in the third wave illustrated how efficiently influenza spread through close contact. An infected transfer inmate transmitted influenza to two prisoners sleeping next to him in the reception center. Two of those men then went to a movie, infecting others.

The Sacramento Bee: Gov. Newsom must release more people from prisons to protect Californians and save lives
In an op-ed, James King is the State Campaigner at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Danica Rodarmel the State Policy Director at San Francisco Public Defender write: It is clear that in order to contain this highly contagious virus, we must dramatically reduce the state prison population. We understand this is a big ask. Our society has, for over generations, consumed demonizing images of Black and brown bodies, with saturation from the nightly news and political careers built on playing into white fears of Black criminals. The fears and subconscious biases that have influenced each of us, including our political leaders, have also guided the policymaking that has led to this moment: hundreds of thousands of people behind bars in California whose lives, wellness and dignity are imperiled.

The Sacramento Bee: About half of California prison inmates killed by COVID-19 were disabled, advocates say
More than half of the California prison inmates who’ve died after contracting the coronavirus as of early this week had disabilities known to the state corrections department, according to a group of attorneys who are suing the state for better conditions. The lawyers are asking a federal judge overseeing a long-running lawsuit in San Francisco to compel the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to create new policies protecting inmates during the pandemic.

The Press Democrat: North Bay lawmakers criticize ’tragic errors’ that led to San Quentin COVID-19 outbreak
Critical errors by state officials led to a C0VID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, where a dozen convicts have died and nearly a third are infected, including seven inmates now being cared for by outside hospitals, a North Bay lawmaker and Marin County health officer said. San Quentin’s total of 2,069 COVID-19 cases accounts for nearly one-third of 6,823 cases throughout the state prison system of 35 institutions. Calling the outbreak a “top priority” for his administration, the governor said he wanted San Quentin’s inmate count reduced to a little more than 3,000.

The Sacramento Bee: Five months after outbreak, California to publish COVID-19 data on local jails
California’s jail oversight board on Wednesday said it would collect and publish data about COVID-19 cases in county facilities, a response to months of public criticism and an apparently faltering effort to get similar information from the state’s health department. The Board of State and Community Corrections in a letter to sheriffs asks them to provide data about COVID-19 deaths as well as positive cases among employees and inmates. It also requests that sheriffs ensure their jail medical providers work more closely with county health officials. The counties, in turn, collaborate with the state, the goal being to improve the information in an existing infectious disease database used to track the spread of COVID-19.

Desert Sun: Calipatria State Prison emerges as COVID-19 hotspot in Imperial County, officials say
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disproportionately hammer rural Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border, local public health officials say shared living spaces — including correctional facilities, nursing homes and family households — are emerging as local epicenters of new or growing outbreaks. Imperial County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday said in a press call Monday that contact tracers have found close contact within individual households continues to be the main source of transmission after someone contracts the virus elsewhere and brings it inside.

The Fresno Bee: Inside Fresno County Jail during coronavirus pandemic: ‘It’s sad and it’s scary
With more than one in every three inmates at the Fresno County Jail infected with the coronavirus and a number of officers testing positive for COVID-19 also, their family members are demanding for more action to ensure the safety of those at the downtown facility. Those at the jail, according to relatives who’ve spoken to inmates and officers, have described the facility as lacking effective protocol to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Mercury News: Record number of coronavirus cases reported at Santa Rita Jail
At least 40 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus within nearly a 24-hour period, the jail’s largest outbreak since the pandemic began. The inmates that tested positive are mostly workers in Santa Rita Jail’s kitchen, or laundry services. When asked if the sheriff’s department was worried the virus could have spread to other parts of the jail through the food, Alameda County Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said the department is looking into it.


Stat: Opioid overdoses have skyrocketed amid the coronavirus, but states are nevertheless slashing addiction treatment program budgets
Budget cuts — many spurred by state budget shortfalls wrought by the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic — will hit behavioral health services when they are needed most, addiction treatment advocates told STAT. At least 35 states have reported increases in opioid mortality rates. Relapses, overdoses, and the use of dangerous and unfamiliar synthetic drugs are also on the rise. Treatment facilities have had to cut capacity to adhere to social distancing requirements — increasing demand for the fewer spots available and squeezing facilities’ budgets at the same time.

Mental Health & Corrections

NPR: America's 'Extremely Punitive' Prisons Make Mental Illness Worse
When you are in the prison system, the expectations are very clear. You're given a set of rules; you're meant to follow those rules. If you don't follow the rules, there are consequences, and the consequences result in greater punishment, greater control. When a person with mental illness enters into that system, there is a misalignment between the straightforward system and their ability to comply with that system. So if someone is not thinking clearly, if they're feeling extremely paranoid, they are not going to trust the rules that are being told to them or the people who are expressing those rules.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

WYSO: Lawsuit Filed Against Public Health Over COVID Outbreak In Jail
Today a local nonprofit, Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton, and an inmate of the Montgomery County jail filed a lawsuit against the Dayton & Montgomery County Board of Health and Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper. The case asks the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to order the local health department to take action to control the growing COVID outbreak at the jail. According to email records, the health department has asked the jail to test everyone at the facility. But the jail has instead followed the recommendations from its medical provider, a company called NaphCare, and has not conducted mass testing.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

VT Digger: Prison chief blasts contractor for death of Black inmate
The head of the state Department of Corrections offered blistering criticism of the medical care received by a Black inmate who died in a Vermont prison several months ago. Baker said the state would not renew its contract with Centurion Managed Care of Virginia, the private health care provider the state used for the past five years. The incarcerated man died at a prison in Newport after complaining that he could not breathe.

Nashville Post: Investment firm acquires Corizon
An investment firm that specializes in turnarounds has acquired Brentwood-based Corizon Health, the provider of health care and pharmacy services for jails and prisons. Flacks Group, which is based in Miami, isn’t disclosing the price of the purchase. he company has been majority owned by hedge fund BlueMountain Capital Management for about three years. BlueMountain’s deal significantly reducing the company’s debt, which had reached about $300 million. In November 2018, BlueMountain injected another $100 million into Corizon, reducing the debt load below $90 million.

Prison Closure

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Oregon Could Close Prisons To Help Save School Funding During Pandemic
Two Oregon prisons are on the chopping block, as state lawmakers wrestle with how to close a yawning budget gap spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. In proposed cuts, the state’s top budget writers float closing the Shutter Creek Correctional Institution and the Warner Creek Correctional Facility, prisons that can hold a combined 795 inmates. The Oregon Department of Corrections did not respond to questions about how it would handle the closures, if they come to pass. The proposed prison closures would be staggered. Shutter Creek, a 302-bed facility in North Bend, would close quickly under the plan. Warner Creek, a 492-bed facility in Lakeview, would close during the budget cycle that runs from 2021-23.

Prison Construction

Desert Sun: Torres Martinez tribe has plans to build 8,400-bed prison, one of the largest in the US
A Native American tribe in Southern California wants to build an 8,400-bed prison on its remote reservation next to the Salton Sea and lease it to the state — a project that would be the first of its kind in the nation. Under the proposal, the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians and its business partners would finance the $2 billion construction project and maintain the state-of-the-art, medium-security prison — it would be the largest in California, and one of the largest in the country. The state would then staff and run the facility and pay the tribe an annual rent of nearly $175 million.