COCHS Weekly Update: August 04, 2020

COVID-19 Juvenile Detention

The New York Times: Virus-Driven Push to Release Juvenile Detainees Leaves Black Youth Behind
Black youth detained in juvenile justice facilities have been released at a far slower rate than their white peers in response to the coronavirus, according to a new report that also found that the gap in release rates between the two groups had nearly doubled over the course of the pandemic. The report, released this month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, illustrates one more disparity the coronavirus has exacerbated for Black children, who are disproportionately funneled into the juvenile justice system.

The Sacramento Bee: Dozens infected with COVID-19 at California youth prisons. Should inmates get released early?
Jane Faalataina’s son is among the 47 teens and young adults who have tested positive for COVID-19 inside the walls of California’s youth prisons. So far, his symptoms are minor, but he’s in medical isolation inside a Stockton facility, and his studies are suffering, she said. The state adult prison system has seen thousands of inmates released early as the coronavirus has surged through those institutions. Faalataina said she wonders why California isn’t willing to do the same for incarcerated youth offenders like her 20-year-old son. There are around 775 teens and young adults in the facilities. Forty-seven inmates infected with COVID-19 represent 6% of the population.

COVID-19 Mississippi Prison Crisis

VT Digger: Six inmates test positive for Covid-19 upon returning to Vermont from Mississippi
Six inmates have tested positive for Covid-19 upon returning to Vermont this week from a privately-run Mississippi prison, according to the state Department of Corrections. Also, according to the department, a Vermont inmate still in that Mississippi prison has tested positive for the coronavirus this week — and had been in the same housing unit as three of the inmates who returned to the state. The six inmates came into the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland from the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, on Tuesday.

Clarion Ledger: Mississippi prisons' health care provider ends multimillion-dollar contract with MDOC
Following up from last week's update, Is Jay-Z quietly financing a Delaware lawsuit against a prison healthcare company?: Centurion the company that the Mississippi Department of Corrections pays millions of dollars each year to provide health care at prisons is terminating its contract as inmates wage a legal battle against the company and the state. Centurion's planned exit from Mississippi prisons is being celebrated as a "significant victory" by Jay-Z and Yo Gotti's Team Roc, which is helping Parchman prisoners sue MDOC and Centurion over alleged poor medical care and squalid and unsafe prisons. They filed the lawsuit shortly after several inmates died during widespread rioting in prisons across the state in late December and early January.

Clarion Ledger: Hundreds sick with COVID-19 at George County Correctional Facility in Mississippi
More than half of all inmates at a Mississippi correctional facility have tested positive for COVID-19 in the largest outbreak of the disease the state has seen at a jail or prison yet. The number has more than doubled from earlier this week, when MDOC reported 114 positive cases on Monday. The sudden spike was driven by the outbreak at the George County facility. The state agency also reports 87 confirmed positive cases among staff. Advocates began raising the alarm in March about the unique risk prisoners face during the pandemic.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

Los Angeles Times: Fears grow that releasing thousands of California prisoners will spread COVID-19 into communities
Missteps by corrections officials handling releases from state prisons are fueling fears in some California counties that thousands of inmates eligible for early release will spread the coronavirus in their communities. Across the state, county probation officials and others on the front lines of the release of as many as 8,000 inmates by the end of August have complained that prisoners were recently freed with little notice to local authorities and without appropriate transportation or quarantine housing — and in some cases, no clear indication they were virus-free.

San Francisco Chronicle: California prison population drops below 100,000 for first time in 30 years
The California prison population dropped below 100,000 people for the first time in three decades on Thursday, officials said. There were 99,929 people incarcerated at state prisons as of Thursday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The population decline comes amid pressure from advocates to release more inmates, especially those who are older or have chronic illness, during the coronavirus pandemic. Still, even after the population dropped, the California prison system was at 123% capacity by early July. Across the state, 8,039 coronavirus cases have been confirmed at California prisons, according to data from the corrections department. Forty-seven inmates have died from COVID-19.

SF Gate: 'I’m being treated like I'm not a person': Fear and disease inside San Quentin
The biggest punishment of solitary confinement is losing their personal property and sense of security. If inmates fall ill and get sent to the hole, their belongings are seized by correctional officers and often go missing — usually because officers give them away to their favorites. As a result, to avoid solitary confinement, some inmates are hiding their illness to avoid getting tested. And when nurses would visually assess inmates and ask if they were experiencing symptoms, prisoners would never admit it.

San Francisco Chronicle: Coronavirus canceled San Quentin prison’s rehabilitation programs, closing a bridge to the outside world
Prison rehabilitation programs statewide were abruptly suspended after shelter-in-place orders went into effect on March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then an outbreak at San Quentin prison has killed 15 people and left more than 2,000 infected. Volunteers have been left with few answers about the health of the men they worked with every day — and when, if ever, they’ll be released. San Quentin is often held up as the state prison system’s model for volunteer-run rehabilitation programs. More than 3,000 civilians are cleared annually to enter the facility and operate more than 200 programs daily.

Fontana Herald News: Health officials remain concerned about coronavirus cases in local prisons and jails
Health officials remain concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in local prisons and jails. At the California Institution for Men in Chino, a state-run prison, 14 deaths associated with the coronavirus have been reported. A total of 866 persons have been infected due to the outbreak at the prison, including 536 facility residents, 19 staff members, and persons classified as ""other,"" according to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. At the California Institution for Women in Chino, a total of 147 persons have been infected, including 129 facility residents, six staff members, and 12 classified as ""other.""

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

Tampa Bay Times: Florida prison COVID spike: ‘They are just issuing death sentences'
Over the span of 72 hours, Florida’s inmate death toll related to COVID-19 in prisons increased by nearly 28 percent, raising the total number of inmate deaths from 36 to 46 over the weekend. At 22 deaths, July has been the deadliest month for inmates when it comes to COVID-19. The second-deadliest month was June, during which nine inmates died. At first, inmate deaths weren’t even acknowledged by the Florida Department of Corrections until the News Service of Florida revealed them after obtaining data from a local medical examiner.

News 4 Jax: Inmate deaths reported at 8 Florida prisons
July has proven to be the deadliest month in Florida’s prison system since the start of the pandemic, with 22 inmates dying.A total of 46 inmates have died from complications of the disease, but no Department of Corrections employees have died, according to the state. Two employees of contractors who work with the Department of Corrections have died after contracting the virus, department spokeswoman Michelle Glady confirmed July 1.

The Washington Post: They were arrested and jailed for breaking a quarantine order. They’re not the first.
After he tested positive for the coronavirus this month, Jose Freire Interian received strict orders to quarantine at his home in Key West, Fla. With infections exploding across the state, the sick 24-year-old was not to leave his bungalow and risk spreading the virus any further. But on Wednesday, police showed up to his door, demanding that he and his wife leave their house — in handcuffs.

The Denver Post: Four of largest ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in Colorado are in prisons, jails
Four of the 10 largest ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in Colorado are in correctional facilities, and cases among people experiencing homelessness in Denver also ranked near the top. Two of the largest outbreaks are in state prisons, and the downtown Denver detention center and Jefferson County jail also reported significant numbers of cases. Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Annie Skinner said the department’s facilities have conducted extensive testing so they can separate inmates who have the virus from those who don’t. They also keep inmates with those in their housing unit to reduce contacts, require masks and screen staff when they come to work, she said.

The Roanoke Times: Roanoke jail sees a dozen cases of COVID-19 among staff in past 2 weeks
A series of recently diagnosed cases has made Roanoke City Jail one of the harder-struck facilities among its neighboring jails since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city jail has seen 12 employees test positive for the virus over the past two weeks, according to an initial announcement made Tuesday and additional information provided Thursday in response to follow-up questions.

WREG Memphis: Arkansas’ prisons in top 10 for COVID-19 cases/deaths per capita, in the country
Arkansas is sixth in the country for COVID-19 related cases among inmates in state prisons, and the state is eighth for most inmate deaths, according to data from the Marshall Project. The state’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called this alarming. “…Arkansas state officials’ shameful failure to address the deadly public health crisis raging through our prisons,” said Arkansas’ ACLU Interim Executive & Legal Director Holly Dickson. “Lives are at stake and Governor Hutchinson and the DOC must take stronger action – now – to protect the vulnerable people in their custody from contracting this disease.”

COVID-19 Parole Violations

The New York Times: Should N.Y. Be Jailing Parolees for Minor Lapses During a Pandemic?
On probation since 2018, Earl Russell was sent to Rikers for sleeping in his own bed instead of in the shelter where he was mandated to stay. At 42, he struggled with high blood pressure and was living in a men’s shelter in Brooklyn. Most people in shelters are there because all their other housing options have run dry, but Mr. Russell had somewhere to go — an apartment in the Rockaways where his girlfriend lived with their 6-year-old daughter, both of whom wanted him home.

COVID-19 Prison Abolition

The Chicago Maroon: COVID-19 and the Case for Prison Abolition
In an op-ed for the student newspaper of the University of Chicago, Meera Santhanam writes: Nowhere is the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on people of color more evident than in American prisons, which have become hotbeds for the virus. Given that Blacks are incarcerated at over five times the rate of whites in the United States, COVID-19’s toll on incarcerated populations means that African Americans are severely affected. COVID-19’s disproportionate toll on incarcerated populations throughout the United States has made it clear that in order to combat both coronavirus and racism in this country, we need to reimagine justice and rethink systems of punishment entirely.

COVID-19 Voices of Incarcerated People and Their Families

LMT Online: Spread of virus concerns families of inmates at Rio Grande Detention Center
Family members and an attorney who have been in contact with inmates throughout the pandemic claim that masks have not consistently been enforced, and that COVID-19 has been spreading among detainees and staff long before these quarantine orders were issued. The Rio Grande Detention Center is owned and run by the private company GEO Group, which contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to jail their inmates.

n+1: Correspondence from state prison
Diary entries on the impact of COVID-19 in the New York State Prison System. Included are emails and correspondance from incarcerated people.

COVID-19 Reports from Correctional Staff

The Huffington Post: Rikers Island Worker Blows Whistle On COVID-19 Risk In Infamous New York Jail
In May, Patricia Kim, a discharge planning social worker at Rikers Island, blew the whistle when she wrote an affidavit accusing city officials of “failing to implement effective, basic, common-sense preventative measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 to its medically vulnerable detainees.” As of July 24, 288 people in custody of the NYC Department of Correction — or 7.3% of the population — were confirmed to be COVID-19 positive. Being imprisoned at Rikers during the pandemic, several incarcerated individuals have told HuffPost, is like waiting to die. At least three people in Correction Department custody have already died from the coronavirus — including two people who were in jail because of minor parole violations.

COVID-19 Release

The New York Times: About 20% of N.J. Prisoners Could Be Freed to Avoid Virus
New Jersey lawmakers are expected to approve legislation that could free more than 3,000 prisoners — about 20 percent of the state’s prison population — months before their release dates in response to the extraordinary threat posed by the coronavirus in tightly packed correctional facilities. The bill, which the American Civil Liberties Union believes to be the first legislative initiative of its kind in the United States, would not permit the release of most sex offenders, but would apply to inmates sentenced for other violent crimes, including murder.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

Fresno Bee: No face masks allowed in Tulare County jails. That’s one complaint in inmates’ lawsuit
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux is being sued by a group of jail inmates for allegedly failing to provide basic safeguards, including face masks, to protect against COVID-19. The class-action complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Fresno by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California seeks to force the sheriff to take immediate action to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus in the jail. Among the actions the attorneys are demanding: testing of all inmates and staff; releasing low-flight-risk inmates who are medically vulnerable; requiring staff to wear personal protection equipment and quarantining people exposed to COVID-19.

Medicaid and Corrections

Lexology: Acknowledging State Challenges in Medicaid Administration
Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a Report to Congressional Requesters (“Report”) recognizing state views on administration challenges with the Medicaid program. The audit informing the Report lasted nearly two years and was conducted in response to a request for the GAO to assess a range of federal Medicaid policies, specifically including the complexity and impact of federal Medicaid policies on states’ ability to efficiently administer their programs. A majority of officials identified several areas posing a significant or moderate challenge to the effective administration of the Medicaid program. One area identified was the coverage exclusions and care coordination for Department of Corrections where limitation on coverage of Medicaid services created challenges in ensuring care coordination.

Excessive Force in Corrections

The New York Times: 4 Guards Charged in Inmate’s Beating at Alabama Prison
Four men who worked as corrections officers in Alabama have been charged by the Justice Department with crimes including civil rights violations and obstruction of justice in the beating of an inmate in 2018, according to a newly unsealed indictment. The criminal case was announced less than a week after federal investigators released a highly critical report on the use of excessive force in the state’s troubled prison system, a practice that the report said was routine and violated the constitutional rights of prisoners.