COCHS Weekly Update: October 27, 2020

COVID-19 Decarceration

The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine: Decarcerating Correctional Facilities during COVID-19 - Advancing Health, Equity, and Safety
This report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends corrections officials and public health authorities work together to determine the optimal population for jails and prisons. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, authorities should use their discretion to minimize incarceration in prisons and jails — and facilitate testing, quarantine, social supports, and individualized reentry plans for those released. One of the recommendations highlighted the critical role Medicaid could play in covering health services provided in correctional settings in the 30 days prior to release. In a commentary on this report, COCHS explores the ways in which these recommendations align with language under consideration by Congress as part of a larger coronavirus relief package.

COVID-19 Health Safety Protocols in Corrections

CNN: CDC updates its guidelines for close Covid-19 contact after prison guard gets infected
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its definition of a close contact with a Covid-19 patient to include multiple, brief exposures, after a Vermont prison worker appears to have been infected that way, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday. The agency changed the definition after a report from Vermont of a corrections officer who became infected after several brief interactions with coronavirus-positive inmates -- none of them lasting 15 minutes.

Niagara Gazette: Virus threat cited in push for oversight of prison medical care
The threat of infectious disease inside prisons underscores the need for oversight of the medical care offered by the state Department of Correctional Services and Community Supervision, according to legislation awaiting action by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While the state Department of Health is authorized to monitor the care provided by hospitals throughout the state, it lacks the power to oversee prison infirmaries where inmates get treated when sick or injured. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, authored the bill that would give the state Department of Health oversight over infectious disease policies and practices at prisons and jails in New York. Gottfried said major outbreaks of COVID-19 infections this month at the maximum security Elmira and Greene correctional facilities have given the legislation new urgency.

COVID-19 Mortality in Corrections

North Carolina Health News: ‘Somebody dropped the ball:’ Deaths in prisons continued, even as NC COVID cases stabilized
Over a third of all North Carolina’s state prison deaths due to COVID-19 have happened within less than a month, from Sept. 7 to Oct 7. This number of COVID-19 deaths is double the number in the previous month-long period, despite North Carolina’s relatively low rate of new COVID-19 cases in the general population. Between Aug. 6 and Sept. 6, three incarcerated people died of COVID-19. In the month-long period that followed, six died. The deaths have occurred despite a judge’s order on June 16 in an ongoing lawsuit against the state and the Department of Public Safety. The order mandated that protective measures such as surveillance testing and quarantines after movement be put in place at each facility.

Press Herald: COVID-19 cited as factor in death of York County inmate as jail outbreak is declared over
COVID-19 contributed to the death of an inmate who tested positive for the virus during an outbreak at the York County Jail, the state Medical Examiner’s Office said. The office said this week that a stroke was the primary cause of 47-year-old Jason Daigle’s death last month, but an exam and a review of his medical records identified coronavirus as a significant condition. That finding differs from comments made at the time by Maine’s top public health official, who said the death was not related to the virus.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Appeal: Coronavirus in Jails And Prisons
Weeks before the first reported cases of COVID-19 in prisons and jails, correctional healthcare experts warned that all the worst aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system—overcrowded, aging facilities lacking sanitary conditions and where medical care is, at best, sparse; too many older prisoners with underlying illnesses; regular flow of staff, guards, healthcare workers in and out of facilities—would leave detention facilities, and their surrounding communities, vulnerable to outbreaks. Despite those early warnings, even jails and prisons that believed they were well-prepared have seen a rapid spread of the virus.

Springfield News-Sun: No cases reported at Clark County Jail seven months into pandemic
The Clark County Jail (OH) has reported no COVID-19 cases since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March. Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett attributes Clark County’s ability to keep the virus out of the jail to three things: screening inmates upon booking, keeping the jail’s population down and sanitizing the jail weekly. Burchett said that throughout the pandemic, the sheriff’s office has worked with the county’s judges to keep the jail’s population closer to 130 by the judges being more lenient on bonds for residents charged with low-level crimes.

Auburnpub: Cayuga County has 63 new COVID-19 cases, most of which are in state prison
A spike in COVID-19 cases in Cayuga County is largely due to an ongoing outbreak at a state prison. The Cayuga County Health Department reported 63 new cases over a four-day period this week — the most in such a time frame since the beginning of the pandemic. However, 44 of the cases are incarcerated individuals at Cayuga Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Moravia.

The Baltimore Sun: More than 70 inmates and 16 workers at Cecil County jail test positive for COVID-19, a sharp increase, state says
More than 70 inmates in the Cecil County Detention Center in Elkton have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, six times the number reported just seven days earlier, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The totals released Wednesday show that 16 staff members also have contracted the coronavirus, up from nine the previous week. The county said 72 inmates have tested positive, while 133 inmates and 84 staff members received negative test results. Three results are pending. The outbreak is the largest in a jail or prison in the state since the virus struck Maryland in March.

CTV News: 33 inmates infected with coronavirus in Alaska prison
An outbreak of coronavirus has infected 33 inmates at a prison in Fairbanks, Alaska, causing the facility to go into quarantine for 14 days, state officials said Saturday. Thirty-two of the cases at the Fairbanks Correctional Center are men and one is a woman, the Alaska Department of Corrections said in a statement. All of those infected were housed in the general population.

Ravalli Republic: COVID-19 cases quadruple at state prison; 6 hospitalized
The number of COVID-19 cases has quadrupled at Montana State Prison in the last week, according to a tally posted Friday by the Montana Department of Corrections. The case count among inmates was at 166 Friday, up from 36 a week earlier. Staff, too, have seen a growing caseload, from 23 on Oct. 16 to 61 on Friday. The new cases are being confirmed daily as the prison is conducting tests on an ongoing basis for inmates and staff, Bright said.

COVID-19 California Prison Crisis

San Francisco Chronicle: San Quentin must release or transfer half its prisoners because of lack of COVID care, court rules
Finding that state officials have acted with “deliberate indifference” to the health of prisoners at San Quentin — where 75% of them have tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 have died — a state appeals court took the unprecedented step of ordering at least half of the prison’s 2,900 inmates transferred or released. The failure to take proper safety measures at the 168-year-old prison is “morally indefensible and constitutionally untenable,” said the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. The court said San Quentin inmates, many of them elderly or medically vulnerable, could be relocated to other prisons or correctional facilities with safer conditions or granted early parole.

The Fresno Bee: Fresno County D.A. slams Gov. Newsom for closing prisons during pandemic
During a press conference to discuss the recent rise in violent crime in the Fresno area, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp called on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to open prisons and manage the pandemic rather than releasing inmates.

Public Policy Institute of California: Rising Jail Populations Mean Rising COVID-19 Infections
Populations at California county jails are rebounding, which may present challenges for counties trying to manage COVID-19 and protect nearby communities. Jail-borne infections potentially can spread to local communities because most admitted inmates are released within a few days—long enough to contract COVID-19 without knowing it. Recent data suggests that more inmates test positive for COVID-19 as jails get closer to capacity. Yet whether lowering jail population levels might reduce COVID-19 infections remains an open question because the data needed to answer it have only recently become available. Every week since April, the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) has published the average daily jail population for each county. More recently, the BSCC also began collecting COVID-19 testing data.

Webinar Registration: MAT in Corrections

O'Neill Institute: Medication Based Treatment for OUD in Corrections: A Review of Model State Legislation
This webinar is an interactive discussion on expanding access to evidence-based treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder. Access to evidence based treatment during incarceration is central to any effective overdose prevention strategy. Medication based treatment in correctional settings is especially important given the elevated risk of overdose death for individuals leaving jails and prisons.

Criminal Justice Response to Mental Health Challenges

San Jose Spotlight: Santa Clara County scraps new jail plans for mental health facility
After pushing for construction of a new county jail in downtown San Jose for years, Santa Clara County supervisors are now putting the project on hold and proposing a mental health facility instead. With a third of the county’s jail population reduced to just under 2,100 inmates due to COVID-19, county supervisors revealed Tuesday they have suspended the process of building a new jail and are considering replacing it with a new mental health treatment facility. County supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a four-pronged approach to the new mental health center, including studying Los Angeles County’s decision to stop its own jail construction in favor of a similar facility. Officials will explore whether the county’s Behavioral Health staff is sufficient to run the proposed mental health facility, with a minimal amount of correctional officers.

Los Angeles Daily News: Harbor-UCLA Medical Center chief hopes sheriff will assess actions of deputy who shot patient inside hospital
Officials at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center said Friday that they hope Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva will conduct an assessment of law enforcement’s actions after a patient, who was acting erratically, was shot by a deputy inside the hospital more than a week ago. In a statement released Friday, Dr. Anish Mahajan, said the hospital is equipped with “a behavioral response team that is trained to safely de-escalate situations in which patients are experiencing significant behavioral health issues.” If needed, the hospital has trained on-site sheriff’s department personnel who are available in case the situation continues to worsen, Mahajan said. The patient, who has only been identified as a 34-year-old man, was shot seven times by a deputy who was providing security for another deputy who was recovering from injuries sustained while on the job.

WTVM: Muscogee Co. sheriff candidates suggest focusing more on mental health after jail suicide
A suicide in the Muscogee County Jail (Columbus, GA) overnight marks the sixth death inside the facility this year. With statistics showing half of this year’s jail deaths are suicides, WTVM wants to know how is mental health being treated inside the county jail. For the third time this year, an inmate at the Muscogee County Jail has allegedly committed suicide. The two men running to be the next sheriff (Mark LaJoye and Marshal Greg Countryman) said enough is enough. It’s time to take a serious look at mental health. “The rate of suicides in the jail and the attacks are absolutely alarming," Mark LaJoye stated and Marshal Greg Countryman said, “The largest mental health facility in the county, technically, is at the county jail."

Sentinel-Tribune: Wasylyshyn’s biggest goal is to address mental health in the jail
Mark Wasylyshyn is running for a fifth term as Wood County’s law enforcement leader. Wasylyshyn was elected in 2005 after serving 14 years with the Perrysburg Police Department. He said the number one challenge is finding a better way to deal with inmates with mental health issues. He is working with both the state and national sheriff’s associations to find a better way.“Sheriffs are the number one provider of mental health care in our country,” he said. “And that is wrong. We should not be placing people with mental health issues in jails. Jails have become the mental hospital.”

Penobscot Bay Pilot: New local program aims to divert mental health, substance use, interpersonal conflicts away from jail
The Restorative Justice Project Maine (RJP Maine), in partnership with Health Equity Alliance (HEAL) and the Waldo and Knox County Sheriff’s Office, announces the launch of the innovative pilot project LEAD. In November of 2019, representatives from each of the partner organizations, along with District Attorney Natasha Irving, attended the second national Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative Conference. This conference provided representatives with the opportunity to learn from other communities who were further along in their deflection/ diversion efforts.

WyoFile: Retiring sheriff’s letter details mental health crises in jails
People experiencing mental health crises are spending months in county jails, often after arrests for minor crimes, because the Wyoming State Hospital, which is charged with evaluating or taking in such cases, doesn’t have the capacity to deal with them. The problem is a long running one for the state, and an official with the Wyoming Department of Health says changes are in the works. A letter written last month by Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley, however, paints a stark picture of the strain such arrangements bring to both deputies and inmates. The jail stays are damaging for all involved, the retiring sheriff wrote.

KJZZ: Medical Expert: Inadequate Mental Health Care Directly Contributed To Inmate Suicides In Arizona Prisons
Three people incarcerated in Arizona state prisons recently died by suicide in the span of four weeks. Now a medical expert who reviewed the deceased inmates' medical records has determined a lack of proper mental health care directly contributed to their deaths. ACLU National Prison Project Director David Fathi says his office reviewed the medical history of the inmates during their monitoring work in a prison health care settlement with the state. While the department has maintained its contractor, Centurion of Arizona, is providing adequate health care, Fathi says the state is depriving incarcerated people of essential mental health care to which they are legally entitled.

Arrests and Race

Washington Post: Black people are arrested for misdemeanors at disproportionately higher rates, study shows
People of color are still disproportionately arrested on misdemeanors in Prince George’s even though the rate of enforcement for such lower-level charges has decreased in the Maryland county and across six other large jurisdictions over the past 10 years, according to a new national study from the Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College. The authors say in the study that this disproportionate rate does not mean that Black people are more likely to commit more crimes than other racial or ethnic groups, but that research shows communities of color have been historically over-policed, are disadvantaged by the racial bias of individual officers, and have been underserved by government policies and community resources.

Private Prisons

The Washington Post: George Floyd’s America - Profiting from prisoners
The policies that would make America one of the most incarcerated nations in the world were born around the same time George Floyd was. He was sentenced to Bartlett State Jail after pleading guilty to an armed robbery in Houston in 2007 and would spend nearly two years at the 1,049-bed facility. During Floyd’s time in the state jail, almost every person, organization and company associated with the facility benefited. Bartlett State Jail pumped $2 million in utility fees and local spending into its namesake city while Floyd did his time, and it created more than 200 jobs in an impoverished city of fewer than 2,000 residents. For the company that owned it, the Bartlett facility became a staple of the Corrections Corporation of America’s prison empire, increasing profits year over year. And for the state of Texas, the private facility was part of a strategy that allowed the Department of Criminal Justice to deliver $55 million in cost savings on its budget.

AJC: Effort to privatize Ga. prison health care draws fear from experts, advocates
Georgia Department of Corrections officials hope to save money by privatizing all health care at state prisons, a proposal that alarms experts and people who’d been incarcerated in a system they say already has a rock-bottom medical budget. The agency has already privatized mental health and dental services. Documents show GDC wants all prison health care to be private by July 2021. GDC paid the McKinsey consulting firm $1.5 million to research and help GDC find a private pharmacy provider. In 2014, New York City paid McKinsey $27.5 million to reduce violence at Rikers Island. An investigation by ProPublica found that McKinsey consultants and jail officials rigged the process for positive numbers by moving inmates they believed to be less violent into the units McKinsey was managing.

Incarcerated Women

AJC: Woman’s pleas for help ignored while giving birth in Fla. jail
A female inmate screaming for help in her jail cell in Broward County, Florida, was forced to give birth alone, ignored by jail staff standing outside her cell until after her son was born, according to the Broward Public Defender’s Office. The jail birth took place Sept. 27, nearly three months after the state enacted the Tammy Jackson Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women law, which puts safeguards in place preventing pregnant women being in restrictive or isolated cells during their detention.

ICE Detention

The New York Review of Books: The Lie of American Asylum
A handful of new books examine America’s punitive immigration politics from different angles, each offering its own wrenching portrait of the Trump era. The books also touch on the greatest outrage of his administration: the policy-sanctioned separation of families that began in the summer of 2018. Despite the months of backpedaling and equivocation that followed the rollout of the policy, a recent investigation has revealed the extent to which it was carefully directed, with then attorney general Jeff Sessions bluntly announcing to a group of prosecutors, “We need to take away children.”

Medicaid Coverage in Jail

New Advocate: Manistee County on the hook for some inmate healthcare costs
Gene Lagerquist, a member of the Manistee Public Safety Committee (MI), complained that if an inmate had certain healthcare coverage like Medicaid before becoming an inmate, that coverage would often be excluded while the county assumed responsibility for the inmate’s medication costs, and mental and physical healthcare needs while in custody. “I cannot understand why we consider our inmates and those that are charged with a crime, why we deny them health insurance that Medicaid covers everybody else for,” Lagerquist said at the latest meeting. “Why do you lose your citizenship in that regard?” In the committee’s October agenda packet information was a National Association of Counties article on the federal Medicaid inmate exclusion policy. The county uses Correct Care Recovery company to handle the jail’s medical billing. The company works with inmates’ insurance companies to cover some costs and get the best deal.

On Focus: Wisconsin Adopts Policy that Suspends Rather than Terminates Medicaid Coverage for Incarcerated Individuals
Beginning October 24, 2020, Medicaid members that are incarcerated will have their health care benefits suspended and then re-evaluated before they are released from jail or prison. Previously, Medicaid members who became incarcerated had their coverage terminated, which then often delayed their access to medical and behavioral health care following their release. With the cost of health care services covered by Medicaid immediately upon an individual’s release, community organizations and free or low-cost clinics will no longer be responsible for the medical expenses incurred by Medicaid-eligible individuals who require care after release.