COCHS Weekly Update: September 1, 2020

Healthcare in Corrections

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Panel ruling backs prisons' rationing of hepatitis C drug
In a split decision, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld Tennessee's rationing of lifesaving hepatitis C drugs to prisoners as constitutional. The 2-1 decision found that officials did not act with deliberate indifference to prisoners' medical needs and it was reasonable to prioritize the sickest patients for treatment given the Tennessee Department of Correaction's limited resources. In a dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Ronald Lee Gilman wrote that officials may not refuse to treat a patient with a serious medical need "merely to avoid paying the bill."

The Crime Report: Death in Prison: How Healthcare Fails the Men and Women Behind Bars
Death rates are rising in America’s prisons even as prison populations slowly shrink, after a generation of explosive growth. While the number of prisoners crept down, the national death toll behind bars rose 15 percent from 2006 to 2016, to 4,100, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in February. Medical issues accounted for 89 percent of the 677 prisoner deaths recorded in Washington state from 2001 to 2019. The coronavirus is expected to cause a spike in deaths, as prisons everywhere in the U.S. struggle to contain the virus.

MAT in Corrections

The Washington Post: Many D.C. drug users not receiving consistent treatment after arrests, audit shows
The D.C. government failed to provide consistent treatment and counseling for drug abuse to the vast majority of people who passed through its jail system over a nearly four-year period, according to a newly released audit. The report — prepared by the Council for Court Excellence, a criminal justice reform nonprofit organization, on behalf of the Office of the D.C. Auditor — found that continuous care was provided in just over 1 percent of cases where a jail inmate probably had a substance use disorder.

North Carolina Health News: Overdoses are on the rise. Is it time to provide medication assisted treatment in NC prisons?
People are 40 times more likely than the average N.C. resident to die of an opioid overdose within two weeks of their release from a North Carolina prison or jail, according to a study conducted by researchers from state agencies and experts from UNC Chapel Hill. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a therapy that’s considered best practice for treating opioid use disorder and helps prevent overdose and reduce the risk of relapse. Currently, state prisons do not offer MAT to inmates. The N.C. Department of Public Safety and Department of Health and Human Services had a plan to pilot MAT programs in three prisons — but this initiative has been stalled due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Hill: ICE reports over 230 active COVID-19 infections at Arizona facility
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported that there are more than 230 active coronavirus cases in one of their facilities in Arizona. As of Saturday, La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., has reported a total of 356 cases in the facility since the start of the pandemic, of which 233 are currently in isolation in ICE custody. In total, 850 of the 21,066 people in ICE custody across the country are currently in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus.

News Channel 20: IDOC, sheriffs continue to battle over inmate transfers
County jails are getting overwhelmed by inmates that, technically, do not even belong to them. This comes after a court ruling Tuesday forced county jails to hold onto Illinois Department Of Corrections (IDOC) inmates in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. The battle between the IDOC and the Illinois Sheriffs' Association (ISA) is getting ugly. Some jails, like the Sangamon County Jail, are now over capacity due to the extra IDOC inmates.

News Channel 12: NCDHHS reports more than 1,200 new cases, a few hospitalizations and no additional deaths
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 1,254 additional cases of COVID-19 within the past 24 hours and an outbreak total of 158,995. Hospitalization numbers have inched up just slightly for a second straight day; there are currently 1,004 people in the hospital statewide for treatment of the virus.

The Register Herald: Outbreak of prison cases, community spread fuel Fayette Covid-19 spike
As of 3 p.m. on Aug. 28, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported 32 active Covid-19 cases involving inmates at Mount Olive, with 1,275 negative results and 853 tests pending. One had recovered, and 16 were in quarantine. Since Tuesday, Fayette's number of positive cases revealed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has risen from 188 to 235, with an increase of 10 on Friday. As of Friday afternoon, Dr. Anita Stewart, Fayette County health officer, reported the county had 236 confirmed cases, one probable case, nine deaths, 13 hospitalized and 162 recovered. That included 32 MOCC inmates and several staff members.

AAMC: Prison should not be a COVID-19 death sentence
Two doctors,Stefano Bertozzi, MD, PhD and Brie Williams, MD, who have visited such hot spots as San Quentin State Prison explain why incarceration makes COVID-19 dangerous. They also share what we can do to protect prisoners and surrounding communities.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

The Los Angeles Times: California prison chief retires amid coronavirus and protest pressure
California’s corrections secretary is retiring after two years in a job that Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said involved “unparalleled challenges” — most recently coronavirus outbreaks that swept state prisons and led to calls for new leadership amid increasing social pressure to ease mass incarceration. Governor Newsom named department veteran Kathleen Allison to replace Diaz, also effective Oct. 1. Allison, 55, of Sacramento, will be the third woman to lead the department, but the first to be designated “secretary” instead of “director.”

COVID-19 Hawai'i Prison Crisis

Honolulu Civil Beat: Unions Call For Removal Of Hawaii Prison Chief Espinda
Citing “escalating unrest and unsafe conditions” at the state’s largest jail, the union that represents Hawaii corrections officers urged Gov. David Ige on Tuesday to force Department of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda to resign from his role overseeing all state prisons and jails. The Oahu Community Correctional Center has emerged as the scene of the largest COVID-19 infection cluster in the state, and officers have been warning for weeks of serious problems such as a lack of personal protective equipment for staff, and unsafe conditions for uninfected inmates who in some cases are housed in the same dormitories as prisoners who have the disease.

Honolulu Civil Beat: A Catastrophe Is Growing At Oahu’s Jail
The state’s largest cluster of confirmed infections is in the Oahu Community Correctional Center. As of Aug. 26, this jail had recorded 302 COVID cases, including 51 staff members, several of whom were hospitalized. Among OCCC inmates, the infection rate is now 25%, and it could go higher. How did it happen? For decades Hawaii has participated in a mass incarceration binge, much like the the rest of the country. Inmates are caged in crowded and unclean conditions.

Honolulu Civil Beat: Lawmakers: DOH Needs To Disclose Any COVID-19 Cases Caused By Ex-Inmates
The state Department of Health is still contact tracing and investigating to determine if inmates who were released from the Oahu Community Correctional Center as the coronavirus spread through the facility ended up infecting other people after they were released. The House Committee on Human Services and Homelessness held a hearing focused mostly on how vulnerable populations are faring during the pandemic, including the inmates who were released from OCCC. The overcrowded jail is now the site of the largest infection cluster in the state, with 256 inmates and 53 staff testing positive.

Honolulu Civil Beat: DOH Official: Some Inmates Who Were Released Caused ‘Spillover’ Infections
The state’s largest jail is still unable to separate all of the prisoners who tested positive for COVID-19 from those who didn’t, and jail officials have released at least some inmates back into the community who went on to cause infections after they were turned loose, according to staff with the state Department of Health and Department of Public Safety.

West Hawaii Today: Oahu inmates released by court ruling quarantined at hotels
Some inmates released from the Oahu Community Correctional Center by a state Supreme Court order have been isolated or quarantined at Honolulu hotels, officials said. The state Department of Health said the inmates include those who have tested positive for COVID-19, are awaiting test results or have been in contact with someone who tested positive. Health department officials would not say how many former inmates are quarantined at the hotels, which were not identified. Those housed in the hotels must show they cannot quarantine or isolate in residences on their own.

COVID-19 CoreCivic Vermont - Mississippi Prison Crisis

WCAX: Vermont considers renewing prison contract with CoreCivic
Vermont is considering renewing its out-of-state prison contract with CoreCivic. That’s the company that owns the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi where 185 Vermont inmates tested positive for COVID-19. The current contract expires in October.

VPR: Vermont Inmates Allege Lack Of Care In Mississippi Prison Hit By COVID-19
Vermont inmates held at an out-of-state prison experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak say they’re being kept in the dark and don’t always have access to appropriate care. Harry Norway, one of 185 the inmates who tested positive, said he has a temperature of 101, but that officials at the facility won’t give him any fever-reducing medication, like Tylenol. Vermont DOC Facilities Executive Alan Cormier said inmates in Vermont should not have to buy Tylenol if it’s to help treat symptoms related to COVID-19. CoreCivic, the company that runs the Mississippi facility, disputes that inmates are denied medicine.

VT Digger: Vermont inmates in Mississippi testing positive for Covid-19 climbs to 84%
Eight more Vermont inmates at a privately run Mississippi prison have tested positive for Covid-19. The total number of Vermont prisoners who have now tested positive for the coronavirus in the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, now stands at 184. That means 84% of the 219 inmates from Vermont at that prison have tested positive for Covid-19.

COVID-19 Florida Prison Crisis

Florida Phoenix: COVID-19 death toll rises in Florida prisons; inmate advocates demonstrate, families grieve
The official death toll from COVID-19 among state prison inmates in Florida rose Friday to 89, spanning cases in 25 of the Department of Corrections’ 57 major prisons. Three prison staff have died of the disease as well, according to the the Florida Department of Health, which tracks coronavirus deaths in state prisons. The corrections department also tracks certain data on COVID-19. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Cares and other civil rights and inmate rights groups have been sounding the alarm about inmate illness and deaths in facilities throughout the pandemic. Lawsuits demanding safer conditions are ongoing.

COVID-19 Reporting Cases in Corrections

The Gazette: Denver sheriff, Mayor's Office collaborated on changing reporting of jail coronavirus cases, records show
Records released under the Colorado Open Records Act showed dozens of top officials from the state and county health departments, the Denver Sheriff Department and Denver Health, a public hospital that contracts to provide medical services in the jail, helped brainstorm a way to reclassify some of the positive and suspected COVID-19 cases so they would no longer be included in the total. Additional emails more recently turned over provide new details on the change, showing that the call to “rectify” the numbers came from Denver Mayor’s Office, in coordination with the Denver sheriff.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

Lompoc Record: Judge appoints disease expert to inspect Lompoc prison in federal class-action lawsuit
A Los Angeles federal judge has appointed an epidemiologist to inspect a Lompoc federal prison facility at the center of a class-action lawsuit and massive COVID-19 outbreak that infected most of its inmates. U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall named Dr. Homer Venters to document the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution's coronavirus response during a site visit in September, according to court records.

Jackson Free Press: Analysis: Mississippi Prison Virus Protocols Under Scrutiny
Attorneys are feuding in federal court filings over coronavirus testing and safety protocols at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. Entertainment mogul Jay-Z and rapper Yo Gotti are funding a lawsuit filed early this year to challenge health and safety conditions in Parchman. Separately, the U.S. Justice Department said in February that it's investigating Mississippi's prison system — an announcement that came weeks after violence in late December and early January left some inmates dead and more injured.

COVID-19 Health Based Release

WUWM NPR Milwaukee: Evers Hasn't Issued Any Health-Based Clemency To Wisconsin Prisoners Despite Coronavirus Pandemic
During his campaign for governor, Tony Evers promised to decrease Wisconsin’s prison population by as much as 50%. But while other governors in the U.S. have issued health-based clemency to prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, Evers hasn’t. Milwaukee-area prison reform activists have been sounding the alarm since the beginning of the pandemic —claiming that Wisconsin prisons have failed to meet basic health and safety standards in light of the pandemic.

Statesman Journal: With 811 coronavirus cases in Oregon prisons, Gov. Brown considers new round of inmate commutations
With 811 coronavirus cases among Oregon prison staff and inmates, Gov. Kate Brown is considering another round of commutations to protect medically vulnerable inmates and those nearing their release dates. In a letter to corrections Director Colette Peter, Brown requested a list of inmates who are medically vulnerable or within two months of their release. Brown stressed she would not release any inmates who would present a risk to public safety. She said she would commute the remainder of the inmates' sentences pursuant to her authority as governor.

Correctional Healthcare Vendor Contract

Daily Journal: With more than $1 billion at stake, Missouri seeking bidders for prisoner health care
In a contract that could be worth over $1 billion in taxpayer funds, Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is seeking companies to run Missouri’s prison health care program. Documents reviewed by the Post-Dispatch show the state is looking to ink a four-year contract with an option of four, one-year renewals. Under current rates, that would put the state on track to pay the private vendor more than $1 billion over the life of the contract.