COCHS Weekly Update: September 29, 2020

RBG and Criminal Justice

The Marshall Project: RBG’s Mixed Record on Race and Criminal Justice
Most criminal justice reform proponents we spoke to praised Ginsburg for her record, in which she was typically skeptical about the government wielding its power unfairly against defendants and prisoners. But there were times she sided with law enforcement and the Trump administration, and she was outspokenly pragmatic on her approach to the death penalty, frustrating its opponents. Here’s a look at Ginsburg’s record on policing, fair trials, sentencing, prison conditions, racial justice, Native rights and more.

COVID-19 Prevention Through Decarceration

NNY 360: Panelists say decarceration is key to preventing COVID-19 in prisons
New York State legislators in the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee held a public hearing to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on prisons and jails, including a status for inmates released early due to the coronavirus pandemic and how agencies plan to keep infection numbers low. Three formerly incarcerated men, who each served several years in correctional facilities statewide, on Tuesday detailed prison conditions at the height of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak this spring. Seventeen inmates, five staff members and four parolees died as a result of the virus, said Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Gotham Gazette: Covid Must Change How We Handle Rikers and the Future of Jails in New York City
In an op-ed, New York City Council Member, Carlina Rivera, writes: Even with the rapid reduction, jails like Rikers have still been scrambling for space to social distance. Over the last few months, the city’s Correctional Health Services recommended more than 1,500 additional individuals be released, including hundreds who meet the same requirement that were provided for early release in April. Unfortunately, many of these recommendations continue to be rejected by DOC, which refuses to release the total number of approved releases. Continuing to release people in DOC custody, while implementing policy solutions to reduce arrests overall, will save lives not just on the inside but in New York City as a whole.

My Central Jersey: NJ bill allowing some inmates to be released early because of pandemic heads to Murphy
A bill was approved Thursday by the New Jersey legislature that will allow certain prison inmates near the end of their sentences to be released early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Assembly passed the bill with Senate concurrence, which calls for public health emergency credits to be awarded to certain inmates during a public health emergency declared by the governor. The credits allow an inmate to be released up to eight months early during the last year of their sentence. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has said he would sign it following a vote on amendments in the Senate last month.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

WHSV 3: Prison holding geriatric prisoners reports 11th virus death
Virginia prison officials are reporting an 11th coronavirus-related death at facility that is home to many geriatric and otherwise vulnerable prisoners. The facility is the Deerfield Correctional Center. It’s a 925-inmate prison. Deerfield houses the state’s largest group of geriatric male inmates. Many have serious health conditions and reside in assisted living or nursing home environments.

Oklahoma Watch: COVID-19 In State Prisons: ‘It’s Supposed to be a Work Camp, not a Death Camp’
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Oklahoma’s prison system have soared since July 22, when the corrections department reported 103 cases following an outbreak at the Lexington Correctional Center. As of September 22, 3,160 inmates had tested positive for the coronavirus with 1,398 cases active. Nine inmate and three corrections staff deaths may have been caused by COVID-19, according to corrections department data. Following a pause on most transfers that lasted from mid-March through June, inmate movement through Oklahoma’s corrections system has picked up in recent months. Transferring inmates without first testing for the coronavirus may have contributed to at least one prison outbreak.

USA Today: Transferring inmates without first testing for the coronavirus may have contributed to at least one prison outbreak.
Hundreds of detainees and staff at a federal immigration detention center in California are being tested for COVID-19 amid an outbreak of the highly contagious virus. 53 of 394 people had tested positive for COVID-19. ICE previously designated 20 of those 53 people as being at greater risk of complications from COVID-19 due to their age and preexisting medical conditions. Jessica Bansal, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California who is representing Adelanto detainees in a class action lawsuit, criticized ICE's practice of holding two people awaiting results in a single cell for multiple days.

NPR: For Inmates With COVID-19, Anxiety and Isolation Make Prison 'Like A Torture Chamber'
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has issued masks statewide, but they started issuing them in early May. Sing Sing was hit hard in April. By early May, five people were already dead. The true number of infected inmates will likely never be known; he says incarcerated people at Sing Sing who didn't need medical intervention weren't being tested.

KPBS: Court Filing: COVID-19 Outbreak At San Diego Jail Due To Careless Handling Of Infected Inmate
An inmate, Victor Cruz, is on the verge of death as one of the largest COVID outbreaks in the federal prison system continues to play out in downtown San Diego. Cruz is one of 196 positive cases of coronavirus at the facility. It’s one of the largest active outbreaks in the federal system. There are 165 federal detainees at the facility who have recovered from COVID-19. The facility mostly houses pretrial defendants.

VT Digger: ‘Pretty much looking at it as over,’ state official says of virus outbreak among out-of-state Vermont inmates
Almost all of the 185 Vermont inmates in a privately run Mississippi prison who have tested positive for Covid-19 are now considered to be in recovery, according to Michael Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services. Currently, there are 211 Vermont inmates at the Mississippi prison, with eight having recently returned back to the state.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

Los Angeles Daily News: LA County jail population is back above state overcrowding limits
Following a COVID-19-related push to drop Los Angeles County’s jail population by roughly 5,000 inmates to prevent the spread of the virus, the number of prisoners has grown by nearly 15%, according to a report posted to the county’s website. That uptick was attributed in part to restrictions on transfers during the coronavirus pandemic that have put thousands of individuals in limbo awaiting relocation to state prisons or state hospitals.

Health and Safety of Incarcerated Women

The New York Review of Books: Confinement and Contagion
Over 230,000 women and girls are held in US correctional facilities, a more than 750 percent increase since 1980. As of 2017, Black women were incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of white women. Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are represented in jails and prisons at a proportion that is eight to ten times greater than in the US population. A 2020 US Civil Rights Commission report found that women face harsher treatment and restrictions because the system does not adequately take into account gender differences, and that sexual violence committed by staff is pervasive. Prisons may not provide enough sanitary products during a woman’s period. Just under half of US states permit women to be restricted or shackled during childbirth.

North Jersey: New Jersey needs to improve prison services for women, report says
New Jersey is failing women in the state's correctional facilities, and needs to do more to remedy the inequities and abuses that female inmates face, according to a report from the Commission on Reentry Services for Women. The report comes in the wake of reported abuse at New Jersey's Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, which houses more than 500 state-sentenced women. The facility failed to protect these women from sexual abuse by staff, according to a Department of Justice investigation.

Public Safety and Mental Illness

5 ABC Eyewitness News: Family calls for accountability after 23-year-old dies following apparent suicide attempt at Hennepin County Jail
An investigation is underway after a 23-year-old man, Naajikhan Adonis Powell, was found unresponsive at the Hennepin County Jail. He died of an apparent suicide while alone in his cell on Sept. 11. Powell was arrested at HCMC on Sept. 11, for a probation violation. According to the warrant, he failed to take medication as prescribed and failed to complete treatment. State law requires deputies conduct inmate checks every 30 minutes if an inmate is mentally ill or potentially suicidal. Less than two hours after he was booked into the jail, the county petitioned to have him committed back to a local hospital because his behavior showed he was posing a risk of harm due to mental illness.

Daily News: Crazy train: A mental health system off the rails
The decades-long dismantling of New York’s inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities didn’t make the most debilitating forms of mental illness magically disappear. And it certainly hasn’t saved New York any money. The Independent Budget Office of New York City report shows that health-care costs in New York City’s jails have swelled, from $197 million 10 years ago to nearly $347 million in 2020, despite the jail population falling almost 60% over the decade. The jail population may be smaller, but the share of that population with a mental health diagnosis has grown, from 29% to 48%.

Wisconsin State Journal: Dane County announces $300,000 for mental health crisis center, an alternative to jail
Dane County residents experiencing mental health crises could be taken to a stabilization center instead of the county jail or hospital if an initiative planned for 2021 is successful. The center would provide services for those facing mental health challenges. Individuals would be able to seek walk-in services, be referred by a community partner or be brought in by law enforcement. It is estimated 40% of inmates in the Dane County Jail have mental illnesses.

The New York Times: City in California Reaches $4 Million Settlement in Fatal Police Shooting
A California city has reached a $4 million settlement with the family of a Black man who was fatally shot last year as he was having a mental health breakdown. Officials from the city, Walnut Creek, confirmed this week that they had agreed to settle with the family of Miles Hall, 23, who was killed in June 2019 after police officers responded to multiple calls of a disturbance in his neighborhood.

The New York Times: No Criminal Charges for Tucson Officers Over Man’s Death in Their Custody
The prosecutor’s office in Tucson, Ariz., announced Monday that it would not bring criminal charges against four police officers in the April death of a 27-year-old man, Carlos Ingram Lopez, who — while naked, handcuffed and face down on the ground — said he could not breathe and repeatedly begged for water and called out for his grandmother. Mr. Lopez was experiencing a mental health crisis when his grandmother called 911 for help early on April 21. What officers did in responding to Mr. Lopez may have been outside the bounds of departmental procedure, the Pima County Attorney’s Office said, but experts said it was unclear if the officers’ conduct contributed to Mr. Lopez’s death.

Hepatitis C Treatment Denial

HEP: Many People on Medicaid and Prisoners Still Lack Access to Hepatitis C Treatment
People who rely on Medicaid and prisoners in some states are still being denied treatment for hepatitis C because they do not yet have advanced liver disease or because they use alcohol or drugs, according to recent reports. Prison systems are a key battleground for treatment access, as incarcerated people have a high rate of hep C compared with the general population. In late August, a federal appeals court sided with the Florida Department of Corrections in a class action lawsuit about treatment restrictions. The majority judges maintained that the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment, does not require that prisons offer medical care that is “perfect, the best obtainable, or even very good,” as long as it avoids providing care that is “so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience or to be intolerable to fundamental fairness.”

Solitary Confinement Reform

WRDE Coast TV: Delaware DOC Eliminates Restrictive Housing in State Prisons
Sometimes referred to as solitary confinement or segregation, restrictive housing has been shown to have a profound negative psychological impact on inmates. Delaware Department of Correction officials are highlighting what they say are the success and impact of their years-long effort to end the use of restrictive housing as a disciplinary measure in the state's prison facilities. DOC eliminated restrictive housing as part of its commitment to employ modern evidence-based practices to create safe prison environments for officers, healthcare providers, counselors, and inmates. These changes began taking shape in Delaware even earlier, in 2015, when the DOC opened a new housing unit with enhanced treatment for dozens of mentally ill inmates who had been previously held in maximum security housing.