COCHS Weekly Update: September 15, 2020

COVID-19 Related Deaths in Corrections

The Guardian: Act now or coronavirus will sentence more prisoners to death, say experts
Jails and prisons continue to be among the largest clusters of Covid-19 in the United States, and experts believe disease will continue to spread inside them and out into the surrounding community without more concerted containment efforts – chief among them, releasing people from confinement. But the ongoing outbreaks of Covid-19 among incarcerated people come as America is at odds over both policing and how to best control the virus, heading into a cold and flu season that could once again overwhelm hospitals.

Commercial Appeal: Shelby County Divisions of Corrections inmate dies from COVID-19
An inmate at the Shelby County Divisions of Corrections (Memphis, TN) has died due to COVID-19 complications, the health department said Wednesday. The inmate arrived at the Divisions of Corrections, 1045 Mullins Station, known as the Penal Farm, on July 7, according to a statement. The individual was set to serve two consecutive three-year sentences. One week later, on July 13, the inmate fell ill and was taken to Regional One hospital, eventually testing positive for COVID-19. Offender in state prison custody dies of COVID-19
An offender in the Scotland Correctional Institution, North Carolina, has died at the hospital as a result of pre-existing conditions complicated by COVID-19. The offender tested positive for the virus on Aug. 14, when he was hospitalized. He had previously tested negative for the virus twice, in late July and early August.

Times Leader: Virginia prison has 407 COVID-19 cases, two new deaths
Two inmates at a Virginia prison who tested positive for COVID-19 died on Saturday as the state struggled with an outbreak of more than 400 active cases at a prison that houses many older and ailing male inmates. Virginia prison officials say more than 10% of the state’s 27,000 inmates have now tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 19 inmates have died.

COVID-19 Release Denied

New Mexico Political Report: Judge rules inmate is safer from COVID-19 in prison than at home
Despite conditions that make social distancing difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, a New Mexico state district judge ruled that keeping a man in state prison would be safer than going home roughly four months early. District Judge Albert Mitchell ruled on Aug. 20 that despite his underlying health conditions and close living conditions in prison, Stanley Ingram would be safer in prison than at home with his girlfriend in Tucumcari. Lalita Moskowitz, a staff attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico, told NM Political Report that she does not think there is much merit to the argument that inmates are safer from COVID-19 inside prison than at home. Inmates are housed in bunk beds about four feet apart and inmates are not required to be six feet apart when interacting with each other.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

VC Star: 70 inmates test COVID-19 positive at Ventura County jails
A coronavirus outbreak among Ventura County jail inmates rose to 70 Wednesday — a jump from the 20 cases identified last week. Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Marta Bugarin said 67 of those held at the main jail in Ventura have tested positive. Another three tested positive at the Todd Road jail near Santa Paula. The vast majority of incarcerated people with the coronvarius were asymptomatic.

Examiner Enterprise: COVID-19 is spreading in Oklahoma prisons
Confirmed COVID-19 cases within Oklahoma’s prison system have soared in recent weeks. On July 22, corrections department officials reported 103 confirmed cases following an outbreak at the Lexington Correctional Center. As of noon on Friday, Sept. 4, 1,596 inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 1,040 active cases. Nearly half of the cases stem from the outbreak at Eddie Warrior, a minimum-security facility where 738 of 802 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.

NBC 29: Nearly 70% of inmates tested so far at Pamunkey Regional Jail are positive for COVID-19
Hanover County, Virginia, leaders are trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Pamunkey Regional Jail. At a news conference Wednesday, the jail Superintendent, Col. James Willett, said in March a COVID response protocol was enacted to address concerns with the pandemic. The Pamunkey Regional Jail Superintendent says inmates were tested 9/4 & 9/5 and drive through testing done for staff. This week test results came back showing 124/178 inmates positive, 20/129 staff positive.

WFYI: Northern Indiana Prison On Lockdown Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
A northern Indiana prison has been placed on lockdown after weekend testing found nearly 60 inmates and several prison workers were positive for COVID-19, a prison official said Wednesday. After new coronavirus cases were found last week at the Miami Correctional Facility, a team from the Indiana State Department of Health visited the prison over the weekend to do rapid testing. Before the weekend, two inmates and five staff in total had tested positive at the prison since the Indiana Department of Correction began testing at Indiana's prisons for COVID-19.

News 3 Channel: DeSoto County jail suspends visitation, trusty program after 11 inmates test positive for COVID
Eleven inmates at the DeSoto County Jail have been quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19. Until further notice, the jail has suspended its trusty program as well as all visitations. It has also handed out masks to all inmates and jail staff. Previously, inmates who left the facility were the only ones provided masks. The outbreak was discovered Saturday when 17 inmates were tested after complaining of feeling sick.

COVID-19 ICE Transportation and Transmission

The Washington Post: ICE flew detainees to Virginia so the planes could transport agents to D.C. protests. A huge coronavirus outbreak followed.
The Trump administration flew immigrant detainees to Virginia this summer to facilitate the rapid deployment of Homeland Security tactical teams to quell protests in Washington, circumventing restrictions on the use of charter flights for employee travel, according to a current and a former U.S. official. After the transfer, dozens of the new arrivals tested positive for the novel coronavirus, fueling an outbreak at the Farmville, Va., immigration jail that infected more than 300 inmates, one of whom died.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

The Hill: Family of California inmate who got COVID-19 files wrongful death claim
The family of a San Quentin State Prison inmate who died of complications due to COVID-19 filed a wrongful death claim against the California correctional facility on Thursday, claiming that a mishandled transfer of infected prisoners led to the man’s death. As of Saturday, the CDCR reported that a total of 2,237 inmates have tested positive for the virus. The prison reported no positive cases prior to the May 30 transfer.

COVID-19 Wildfires and Incarcerated People

The New York Times: For Prisoners in the West, the Virus and the Wildfires Are Colliding Threats
As wildfires tore through huge swaths of Oregon this week, prisoners were hurried away from the encroaching flames — not to freedom but to an overcrowded state prison, where they slept shoulder-to-shoulder in cots, and in some cases on the floor. Food was in short supply, showers and toilets few, and fights broke out between rival gang members. They were safe from one catastrophe, but delivered to another: the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread at an alarming rate in America’s prisons.

The Oregonian: Oregon prisoners report ‘inhumane’ conditions following fire evacuations, transfers
Dozens of prisoners and their family members have reported evacuees have been subjected to a range of unlivable conditions — from not receiving medications and being placed in facilities with even worse air quality than the ones they evacuated, to going up to 24 hours without food. The conditions led some to protest overnight Friday at Deer Ridge. The Oregon Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the reported conditions across its facilities.

The Fresno Bee: California prison camp inmates battle Creek Fire. Dangerous job pays a few dollars a day
State prisoners are providing a key source of labor on the out-of-control Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties, as well as dozens of other fires around the state. Supporters of the state prison system’s “conservation camp” program, however, argue that the inmates are learning valuable life and job skills on the fireline. For some activists, it’s appalling that inmates are being used for the dangerous work at all. They say it’s especially galling that many inmate firefighters can’t land a firefighting job when they’re released because they’re dogged by their criminal records. A bill this year, AB 2147 by Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, would allow inmate firefighters to have an easier path at having their records expunged. The bill has passed the legislature and is awaiting Governor Newsom’s signature or veto.

The Hill: Newsom signs legislation allowing pathway for inmate firefighters to become professional after release
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation Friday creating a pathway for inmate firefighters to become professionals after they are released. Without the barrier of a criminal record, the former prisoners can seek employment as firefighters. The bill excludes those convicted of certain crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, rape, arson or any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment. The bill, AB2147, allows certain prisoners who are on the front lines of wildfire containment to have their records expunged after serving their sentences.

Mental Health and Corrections

The Telegraph: Mental health program considered by county
Local officials want Madison County, Illinois, to participate in a nationwide initiative to decrease the number of people with mental illness going through the criminal justice system. Madison County Public Defender John Rekowski said that about 75 percent of the clients his office sees have “some kind of mental health issues.” He shared information about one current client with “mild mental illness that can be maintained with help” who was arrested for shoplifting several sodas. The county has no proper facilities to hold her.

Abuse of Disabled Inmates

Los Angeles Times: Judge orders body cameras on guards at state prison, citing evidence of officers abusing inmates
For the first time, California correctional officers will be required to use body cameras while interacting with inmates inside a state prison, a federal judge ordered Tuesday. The ruling comes in a civil rights lawsuit over disabled inmates’ rights, in which a federal judge found evidence to support allegations of physical abuse of prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. The order applies to interactions with all inmates with disabilities inside the Otay Mesa facility.


Searchlight New Mexico: A Virus Knows No Bars
Private prison operator CoreCivic is accused of ignoring a COVID-19 outbreak, putting inmates and the community at risk. For months, CoreCivic, the largest private prison corporation in the nation, had assured state and federal authorities it had everything under control. On July 26, it reported just five positive cases among the federal inmates at its Cibola facility, a 1,129-bed prison set in the little village of Milan, just outside of Grants. The following day, the number jumped to 175 — an increase that represented New Mexico’s largest single-day jump of COVID-19 cases. In July, nearly 70 percent of Nevada inmates held at another CoreCivic facility in Arizona tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Las Vegas Review Journal: Nevada politicians inspect facility holding ICE detainees in Pahrump
Three Congress members visited a private detention center in Pahrump on Thursday to inspect the treatment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees amid the coronavirus pandemic. There have been 10 coronavirus cases among ICE detainees at the CoreCivic facility, and three people are currently under isolation or monitoring, according to data posted on the ICE website.

News Channel 15: Davidson Co. ready to assume management of prison from CoreCivic by October
With CoreCivic soon out of the picture, Davidson County plans to take over full control of the Metro-Davidson County Detention Center (Nashville, TN), months before they had hoped. Sheriff Daron Hall hasn’t spoken much about what the plan has been since July when CoreCivic announced they wouldn’t re-sign a new contract. CoreCivic sent a scathing letter to Hall and several city council members, Hall says he wrote a letter of his own. This time addressed to the employees working at the prison. The letter said, “we need every one of you.” From the very beginning of the negotiations between Metro city council and CoreCivic, Hall says he suspected CoreCivic was ready to walk away.