COCHS Weekly Update: July 28, 2020

Correctional Healthcare Vendors

Delaware Online: Is Jay-Z quietly financing a Delaware lawsuit against a prison healthcare company?
Lawyers for Centene Corp., an embattled prison healthcare company, suspect that rapper and businessman Jay-Z is using Delaware's business court to push for reforms at Mississippi prisons. In arguments in Delaware Chancery Court Thursday, the attorneys said there is reason to believe that Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter is the silent financier behind a lawsuit to force their client to hand over internal documents about the provision of care in Mississippi prisons. Last month, an outside doctor inspecting the Mississippi State Penitentiary called living conditions there sub-human and deplorable in a civilized society.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

The Washington Post: Inside San Quentin prison, you sit and wait until covid-19 comes for you
On June 22 and 23, everyone in my building, San Quentin’s North Block, lined up for covid-19 testing. I had just begun to feel weirdly awful. I overheard other guys describing the same things I was feeling. None of us wanted to alert the medical staff. So, you admit you’re sick? Well, let’s remove you from the few familiar comforts you have and throw you in an empty cell for a 14-day quarantine. That’s the protocol we all feared worse than covid-19.

The Sacramento Bee: ‘Egregious:’ Officials say California prison transfers, testing may be fueling COVID-19 outbreak
Health officials in Lassen County said state contractors testing for COVID-19 in prisons have been using unreliable methods to collect samples, a misstep that officials worry could have exacerbated an outbreak in the rural California county. In a letter to the state health department this week, Lassen County’s top health official said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also has allowed infected nurses to transmit the disease — including to a prison healthcare worker — by not using personal protective equipment properly and monitoring themselves for signs of infection.

The San Francisco Chronicle: San Quentin coronavirus outbreak apparently result of missed steps by prison overseer
The deadly outbreak of COVID-19 at San Quentin State Prison resulted from a mass transfer of inmates from a virus-plagued prison in Southern California, a transfer approved by J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed receiver in charge of health care in the state’s penal institutions. A legislator whose district includes San Quentin says Kelso should be fired from the job he has held since 2008. Lawyers for inmates who sued the state over prison health care say Kelso bears some blame for the deaths at San Quentin but have not argued for his removal. Kelso himself has acknowledged responsibility but is not stepping down.

COVID-19 Transmission Spike

North Carolina Health News: ICE transfers — and NC jail partnerships — have continued amid the pandemic
Detainee transfers by ICE have continued during the pandemic, much to the dismay of health experts, who argue the practice has spread the virus across the country and, even, around the world. Many outbreaks have been directly traced to transfers of immigrants from one facility to another. Unlike the state prison system, which is required to provide transfer numbers as part of an ongoing lawsuit, there’s little way to know exactly how many ICE transfers have taken place in North Carolina, or where detainees have been moved to and from within the state. Jails refer questions to ICE, and the federal agency said it does not release data on detainee moves below the regional level.

Open Society Foundation: Incarceration Should Not Be a Death Sentence
Andrea Circle Bear, a 30-year-old indigenous woman from South Dakota, was five months pregnant when she was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for “maintaining a drug involved premise” earlier this year. Three months later, on April 28, she was declared dead. She became first female prisoner to die of COVID-19 in a federal prison in the United States.

9 News: After Denver jail COVID-19 cases spiked, officials scrambled to lower publicly reported counts
On Wednesday, May 20, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published weekly coronavirus outbreak figures from around the state, one entry stood out: Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, Denver’s largest jail, reported 398 new confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, bringing the facility’s total to 581 and making it the largest outbreak in the state.

ABC News: COVID-19 outbreak reported at Texas federal medical prison
More than 500 women at a federal medical prison in Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus, in one of the largest confirmed outbreaks at a federal prison, the Bureau of Prisons said. The number of confirmed cases at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Fort Worth jumped to 510 on Tuesday, just two days after the Bureau of Prisons reported that 200 women there had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Only the federal prison in Seagoville, also located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had more infected inmates, with 1,156 cases as of Tuesday.

Lexington Herald Leader: COVID-19 sweeps through another Kentucky prison, killing 3 and infecting 182
A COVID-19 outbreak over the last two weeks has ravaged the Kentucky State Reformatory, a state prison in Oldham County, killing three inmates and infecting at least 168 inmates and 14 employees. The prison — which is primarily meant to hold medically vulnerable inmates — is Kentucky’s third state prison to have a major COVID-19 outbreak this year.

4 CBS Miami: Florida Inmate COVID-19 Cases Top 5,000
The number of Florida prison inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 surpassed 5,000, and the inmate death toll increased by one, according to data released by the state Department of Corrections. The count of positive cases among inmates went from 4,886 on to 5,158. More than 120 of the new cases were reported at Columbia Correctional Institution, a facility in rural North Florida that has 1,096 inmate cases, the largest number of infections at any prison in the state.

News Graphic: Jail closed due to COVID-19 outbreak; cases surge
Scott County’s battle against COVID-19 took another twist when the Detention Center identified a cluster of confirmed cases over the weekend. Some nine inmates and one staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The staff member is in self isolation at home and the inmates are quarantined together in two cells. Several of the inmates are showing symptoms of the virus, but others are not. Anyone arrested in Scott County over the next two weeks will be transferred to a jail in a nearby county. The jail currently has 70 inmates. Any inmate who is released is recommended to self isolate for 14 days at home.

Oregon Public Radio: Oregon's Prisons Struggle With COVID-19 And Its Impact On People Behind Bars
The number of COVID-19 cases is surging again, including inside Oregon’s prisons. Recent numbers showed a spike in cases at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon, and prisoners are quarantined in at least two other state facilities. Trying to control the spread of a virus in prison means major changes in daily life — and in the ways lawyers can interact with their clients.

COVID-19 Correctional Staff

Idea Stream: Prison Health Care Union Demands Better PPE, Staffing Policies
A union representing health care workers in Ohio’s correctional facilities is demanding additional personal protective equipment and staffing policy changes due to what they call “an unacceptable level of risk” during the ongoing pandemic. SEIU District 1199 represents nurses, social workers, and psychologists working in Ohio’s prisons. In a letter this week, Executive Vice President Josh Norris wrote that some workers are not being provided N95 respirators, which are the most effective masks for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

State of Reform: Committee hears testimony on COVID-19 risks in correctional facilities and API
The House State Affairs and Health and Social Services committees held a meeting this week to hear testimony on COVID-19 health risks in high risk facilities like prisons, jails, and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API). The meeting is a follow up to a workplace safety meeting held last week by the two committees. Many employees have brought hand sanitizer and soap from home as some of the facility’s units are completely out.

Tampa Bay Times: How Florida is failing to protect prison staffers from COVID
Little information is known about infections among staff in Florida's prisons. Of the 28,000 prison staff who work across the state, 1,182 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday afternoon. None of them are required to get tested, and the department doesn’t say how many tests have come back negative or if any staff members have died of the virus. The voluntary tests are only offered on site at 15 of the 143 Department of Corrections facilities, which include both state-run and privately run facilities.

COVID-19 Voices of Incarcerated People and Their Families

7 KPLC: Inmates’ family members concerned as COVID cases continue at Allen Correctional
Family members of inmates at Allen Correctional Center in Kinder are upset with how COVID-19 is being handled. They say those who test positive are not being properly separated from others and they’re concerned about medical care being provided. As of Tuesday, 28 inmates were positive and were showing symptoms. Another 38 were positive, but not showing symptoms. Fifteen staff members have tested positive.

Lansing State Journal: Family, friends worried for inmates at Ingham County Jail after COVID-19 outbreak
After a total of 16 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 in the Ingham County Jail, friends and family members are worried for their loved ones' safety. Mariah Monroy's father is serving a five-month sentence for violating his probation on an OWI case. Her father, Samuel Monroy, has pre-existing health issues and is being held in the section of the jail where the COVID-19 breakout has occurred. A total of 16 inmates and one civilian employee have tested positive for COVID-19

COVID-19 Impact On Probation

The Texas Tribune: The coronavirus is keeping Texas prisoners who've been approved for parole behind bars
Thousands of Texas prisoners are stuck in limbo during the public health disaster, approved for parole yet still sitting inside disease-prone lockups as the coronavirus rages across the state. Many have been waiting six months or longer for release. During that time, Texas has seen more state prisoners die with the virus than any other state prison system in America. In May, more than 15,000 Texas prisoners had been approved for parole but were not yet released, according to records from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. That’s about 12% of the state prison population. About 4,300 prisoners had been granted parole at least six months earlier.

COVID-19 Legislation

Hudson Reporter: Assembly bill seeks to stop COVID-19 spread in state prisons
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey’s prisons due to overcrowding, legislation that would require public health emergency credits to be awarded to certain inmates during a public health emergency has cleared an Assembly panel in the New Jersey Legislature. Credits would be awarded if a public health emergency is declared by the governor as a result of communicable or infectious disease. It would result in the modification of correctional facility operations.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

News Channel 3: Court documents reveal proposed Riverside County jail COVID-19 plan
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department reached an agreement with an inmate advocacy group on a plan to minimize the spread of the virus among inmates. This dates back to April when a federal judge ruled that the Sheriff’s Department wasn't doing enough to protect inmates from coronavirus. The department was ordered to discuss a coronavirus prevention plan with the Prison Law Group.

Santa Barbara Independent: ‘Extreme Isolation Cells’ Banned from Santa Barbara County Jail
In a breakthrough settlement last Friday, Santa Barbara County and its Sheriff’s Office reached an agreement in a class-action lawsuit alleging unsafe conditions in the Main Jail — including a ban on “extreme isolation cells” and a drastic increase of out-of-cell time for inmates.The lawsuit, Murray v. County of Santa Barbara alleges that the living conditions in the Main Jail are overcrowded and unsanitary. More specifically, it charges that the Sheriff’s Office does not provide adequate mental-health and health services to inmates, that it practices “harmful and excessive use of solitary confinement,” and that it discriminates against disabled inmates. The final settlement comes after months of negotiations and years of attempts to relieve the overcrowding issue. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has also spurred changes ahead of time.