COCHS Weekly Update: November 10, 2020

2020 Election

Los Angeles Times: L.A. County voters approve Measure J, providing new funding for social services
Los Angeles County voters have approved Measure J, which will divert more county money to social services and jail diversion programs. Measure J requires that 10% of locally generated, unrestricted county money — estimated between $360 million and $900 million — be spent on a variety of social services, including housing, mental health treatment and investments in communities disproportionally harmed by racism. The county will be prohibited from using the money on prisons, jails or law enforcement agencies.

The New Yorker: After Years of Protests Every Wednesday, L.A. Activists Welcome a New D.A.
District Attorney of Los Angeles County, Jackie Lacey, who has been cautious about charging law-enforcement officers was voted out in last Tuesday's election. Her victorious opponent, George Gascón, who is Cuban-American and a former L.A.P.D. officer—he also served as police chief in San Francisco and, later, as the city’s D.A.—ran on a platform of decarceration and decreasing police funding. Lacey, who opposed numerous pieces of criminal-justice-reform legislation and sent twenty-two people of color to death row, reportedly raised seven million dollars, mostly from police and deputy unions. The day after the election, the street in front of the Los Angeles County Hall of Justicie was the site of celebration.

The Washington Post: She is a former addict and prisoner. She was just elected to the state house in Washington.
Winning an election was the furthest thing from Tarra Simmons’s mind in 2013 when she was working at Burger King, worried about how she was going to pay her rent. She had recently been released after a 30-month prison sentence for drug and theft convictions. Ultimately, Simmons decided to help fight for changes for people after they’re released from prison. That led her to apply to law school, and she was accepted to the Seattle University School of Law, and ended up graduating with honors in 2017. Simmons said she decided to run for public office as a “second chance” candidate focused on prison reform in the hope of helping those with prison records find housing and jobs and start anew with their loved ones.

Medicaid's Impact on Justice Involved Population

The Square One Project: Understanding Health Reform as Justice Reform: Medicaid, Care Coordination, and Community Supervision
Today, the Square One Project is releasing Understanding Health Reform as Justice Reform: Medicaid, Care Coordination, and Community Supervision, a new report that outlines how probation and parole aren't effectively serving people with chronic health conditions, and how expanding and building on Medicaid can produce better health outcomes while also reducing mass incarceration.

Health Affairs: Indiana’s Section 1115 Medicaid Waiver And Interagency Coordination Improve Enrollment For Justice-Involved Adults
Timely access to Medicaid coverage offers many potential benefits to justice-involved adults reentering the community. In 2015 Indiana’s Section 1115 Medicaid waiver (the Healthy Indiana Plan [HIP]) expanded eligibility for low-income adults. Indiana Department of Correction began initiating Medicaid applications for those in custody. Medicaid began temporarily suspending coverage for people while they were incarcerated instead of discontinuing it. After HIP implementation, coverage rates increased by 9 percentage points. Furthermore, coverage effective within seven days of release increased by 14 percentage points.

Spectrum News 1: Proposed Medicaid Expansion for Kentucky Inmates Could Secure Drug Addiction Treatment
Kentucky is preparing a request for a Medicaid waiver, in which people serving time behind bars could secure free addiction treatment while incarcerated. "Prisons and jails are traumatizing," the ACLU Kentucky's Policy Strategist Amanda Hall says from experience. "I was on a waiting list for treatment the entire time I was in prison.” Hall served time for charges stemming from drug use. She says the community-based treatment for addiction that she was able to secure after her release from prison helped her turn her life around. As the proposal is written, she explains, drug addiction must be the Medicaid seeker's primary diagnosis to receive the free care; oftentimes, there's a mental health diagnosis that's primary.

COVID-19 Increasing Racial Disparities

Marshall Project: When Going to the Hospital Is Just as Bad as Jail
States and cities have long struggled with a dearth of mental health care funding, and whether to put that limited money toward more in-patient psychiatric beds or community mental health care. This tension has only gotten worse during the pandemic, now that government budgets have been gutted, some psychiatric hospitals have become COVID hotspots, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression are on the rise. Just as communities of color experience more police violence, they also face disparities in the existing mental health system. Alameda County, California, has the highest rate of psychiatric holds in the state—over three-times the California average. Black people make up over a third of those brought to the hospital’s emergency psychiatric ward, but just a tenth of the county population overall.

The Sacramento Bee: California must reduce jail and prison populations to fight COVID-19 — and racism
A California Court of Appeals recently ordered the San Quentin State Prison to halve its inmate population. While some states and localities have taken steps to reduce incarceration, the overall effect has been negligible. Even though jail populations plunged and prison populations decreased, there are nearly five times as many COVID-19 cases per capita among incarcerated people than in the general population. Most people who are released from incarceration are returning to a community that has been harmed by both the virus and economic recession, not to mention a history of mass incarceration. COVID-19 has exposed the flaws of a system that focuses its effects on Black, Hispanic and Native American people. Fighting against COVID-19 in prisons and jails with decarceration and improvements in health care won’t just control outbreaks, it is also fighting racism.

Undark: Is Mass Incarceration Driving Racial Disparities in the Pandemic?
Encompassing nearly 100 acres, the Cook County Department of Corrections is one of the largest single-site jails in the country. The jail currently houses about 5,400 detainees daily, most of them awaiting trial, and employs more than 3,000 staff. The County, as it’s known across Chicago, has been cited for a laundry list of civil rights violations since the 1970s. This year, the County earned another dubious distinction: It was home to one of the country’s largest Covid-19 outbreaks at the height of the pandemic in the spring. By the end of April, 628 detainees and 279 staff had tested positive. Yet an underappreciated paper published in June suggests that the virus outbreak rippled far beyond those concrete walls. It showed that 16 percent, or about one in every six, of all Covid-19 cases in Chicago and across Illinois could be traced to people cycling in and out of Cook County Jail. As a result, the authors reveal a strong correlation between incarceration and Covid-19 cases in the region, especially in African American communities.

NBC Los Angeles: Drop in Jail Population Due to COVID Failed to Cut Number of Black or Mentally Ill Inmates
The release of thousands of inmates from Los Angeles County jails in response to the coronavirus failed to reduce the proportion of mentally ill inmates or racial disparities in the lockups, both of which are on the rise, according to a county report released Monday. That number would need to be cut significantly further in order to support closing the downtown jail, which was built in 1963 and houses roughly 4,000 of the more than 13,000 individuals held in custody countywide, based on an Aug. 19 point-in-time count. Based on that count, the proportion of both Black men and women in county jails has increased since before the virus struck. Black people made up 29% of the jail population pre-COVID and 31% on Aug. 19, while the number of white inmates dropped from 15% to 12%.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Appeal: Coronavirus In Jails And Prisons
Homer Venters has been to prisons, particularly in the South, where there are still at between 80 and 120 percent of capacity and where really not much has been done in a meaningful way to prevent the spread of infection. Some of these states are trying to lower the age at which a person can become a correctional officer, or they’re trying to raise the salary of correctional officers. He does not hold out for better facility development that improves infection control. His primary recommendation has always been for places to consider high-risk people for release to protect them from dying.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Breaking out in prison: COVID-19 gaining traction in Montana correctional facilities
Nine months since the coronavirus pandemic began afflicting the country, some of Montana’s most highly populated correctional facilities are swamped with disease spread that shows no sign of being contained. As of Friday, the Department of Corrections had recorded 261 positive cases among inmates at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge and 114 among staff members. The prison is more than 85% full with roughly 1,400 inmates in custody. There are an additional 99 inmate and 21 staff cases at Montana Women’s Prison in Billings.

Springfield News-Leader: Two more Fed Med inmates die amid prison outbreak
Late Friday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said that two more inmates at Springfield's Medical Center for Federal Prisoners died Wednesday after they were infected with COVID-19. In total, four prisoners have died since Oct. 31, according to Bureau of Prisons news . Both men had underlying conditions and received "daily symptom checks" before being transferred to a "local hospital," officials said. Hospital staff pronounced them dead Wednesday.

COVID-19 Preventive Release

The New York Times: 2,258 N.J. Prisoners Will Be Released in a Single Day
In a sweeping acknowledgment of the risks of the coronavirus in cramped prisons, New Jersey released more than 2,000 inmates on Wednesday, Nov. 5, as part of one of the largest-ever single-day reductions of any state’s prison population. More than 1,000 additional prisoners will be released in the coming weeks and months after earning early-release credits for time served during the health crisis — resulting in a roughly 35 percent reduction in New Jersey’s prison population since the pandemic began ravaging Northeast states in March.

NJ Spotlight News: Prisoner release raises concerns about their health during pandemic
New Jersey released thousands of people from prisons Wednesday to try to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in corrections facilities, but questions remained about the state’s ability to support the public health needs of this vulnerable population. Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, a prominent advocate for prisoner rights who now leads the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, said re-entry partners around the state pulled together in recent weeks to support the state’s release, working with the DOC and other departments to try to secure specific resources for each individual leaving custody: federal food stamp benefits; general assistance or welfare support, which is connected to housing subsidies; a Medicaid card; access to medical treatment, including for substance use and mental health needs; and employment training. Individuals also need a government-issued ID card other than their prison identification.

COVID-19 Correctional Officer's Union

Press of Atlantic City: Cumberland County jail officials confirm 2nd case of COVID-19 in inmates, infighting continues with attorney for correctional officers' union
Infighting continues between Cumberland County jail administrators and officials representing correctional police officers there as officials confirmed the jail’s second case of COVID-19 in an inmate and four additional cases in officers. Stuart Alterman, attorney for PBA Local 231, the union that represents officers at the jail, said jail equipment is not being properly cleaned and personal protective equipment is in short supply, calling Richard Smith “The Warden of the Super-Spreader.”

Developmental Disabilities and Mental Illness

The Marshall Project: Prison Is Even Worse When You Have a Disability Like Autism
The Americans with Disabilities Act—signed into law 30 years ago this summer—mandates that people with physical and developmental disorders receive equal access to programs and services provided by public institutions, including correctional facilities. But advocates for people with developmental disabilities have long argued that all too often, prisons do not fulfill that promise. When developmentally disabled prisoners go unidentified, they are even less likely to receive services they are entitled to under federal law—such as help understanding prison rules or obtaining medications. That loss of assistance leaves them vulnerable to medical misdiagnosis, isolation in solitary confinement, denial of legal and educational opportunities, sexual abuse and bullying, prisoner advocates and relatives say.

The Daily Beast: Detroit Police Shoot and Kill Schizophrenic Man, Blame Mental Hospital For Releasing Him
Michael Moza was still wearing his hospital wristband when Detroit police killed him in a hail of gunfire during a car chase early Wednesday morning. Moza, who’d just turned 30, was struggling with schizophrenia and had tried checking into a psychiatric hospital hours before he died. But his family says the hospital released Moza without the medication he desperately needed. In a press conference Wednesday, Police Chief James Craig urged reporters to hold the mental health facility accountable for allegedly turning Moza away. He shifted blame for Moza’s death to the Detroit Receiving Hospital’s psychiatric center.

Criminal Justice's Mental Health Initiatives

Monterey County Now: When the criminal justice system defaults to a mental health system, it’s not easy to serve defendants.
When the criminal justice system defaults to a mental health system, it’s not easy to serve defendants. Monterey County Jail takes defendants found not competent to stand trial and attempts to restore them to competency. The men enrolled in the program, called Jail-Based Competency Training, go through intense therapy every day to focus on their mental health issues, and also go through court training, to learn and understand who all the players are when they go to the courtroom—who the judge is and why, who the attorneys are and why.

Whidbey New Times: Jail earns distinction for efforts with mentally ill
The Stepping Up Initiative recently named Island County (WA) as one of 23 “Innovator Counties” in the nation for its data-driven efforts to assess and assist people with mental health illnesses in the jail, according to the initiative. County officials say the jail system has been transformed in the five years since the death of Keaton Farris, a 25-year-old man who was suffering from mental illness and died from dehydration alone in his cell. The jail has developed a screening system for people being booked into the jail. The classification tool gauges mental illness and risk; people thought to be suffering from a mental illness are set up for referral with mental health care providers on an urgent or not-so-urgent basis.

Standard Examiner: New Weber County program aims to help jail inmates overcome drug, mental health problems
Weber County (UT) is entering into a four-year, $421,000 contract with the University of Cincinnati to train local staff in helping jail inmates kick drug habits, get mental health counseling and find jobs after release. The program is being paid for by part of a $1 million grant the county was awarded last year by the U.S. Justice Department. The grant is intended for development of community reentry programs for adult inmates with substance abuse and mental health issues, according to Justice Department documents.

New Times: SLO County adopts plan for mental health care at jail
San Luis Obispo County (CA) is working to reduce the number of residents with mental illnesses in its jail and provide better treatment to those who are behind bars. On Nov. 3, officials outlined a strategic plan to do just that. The county’s three-year plan, part of its participation in the national Stepping Up initiative to improve mental health care at county jails, sets four priority areas for action. They include reducing the number of individuals with mental illnesses who are booked into county jail, reducing average daily jail populations, decreasing the average length of a jail stay, and lowering recidivism rates. As of September 2020, 22 percent of all jail inmates had serious mental illnesses, up from 11 percent last year. Officials say the increase is in part due to COVID-19 restrictions at state prisons and hospitals.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Vendors

Indiana Daily Student: Prisons are a direct continuation of slavery
In an op-ed Alex Petit a senior at Indiana university writes: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime. . . shall exist in the United States." The 13th Amendment never truly abolished slavery in the U.S. It allowed slavery to evolve and be hidden away in our prison system. The privatization of prisons was an effort to make them profitable. CoreCivic, one private prison corporation, operates in the U.S. through 120 facilities across 23 states. It enters contracts with the federal government through Immigrant and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons. Terrell Don Hutto, one of CoreCivic’s co-founders, was heavily involved with prisons in the South. He served as the warden at the Ramsey prison farm from 1967 to 1971 and became the head of the Arkansas Department of Correction from 1971 to 1976. If prisoners failed to meet labor quotas and additional standards, they were placed in solitary confinement without food, a shower or clean clothes.

The San Diego Union Tribune: Detainees and inmates worry about new COVID-19 cases at Otay Mesa Detention Center
Otay Mesa Detention Center is facing its second COVID-19 outbreak of the pandemic after the virus first swept through the facility in the spring, infecting more than 200 people in custody and leaving one man dead. According to Lynzey Donahue, spokeswoman for U.S. Marshals Service, 113 inmates have tested positive over the course of the pandemic, and 79 have recovered. That leaves 34 active cases among U.S. Marshals Service inmates as of Monday. Neither agency nor CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates the facility, responded directly to questions about the new outbreak’s origin.

News Tribune: Missouri Corrections Department, Corizon to spend $50 million to treat inmates with hepatitis C
In January 2015, the Missouri Corrections Department reported treating 0.11 percent of its hepatitis C-positive inmates, or five inmates out of 4,736 inmates, with known infections. The prison medical staff provided medication symptoms, but did not treat for the virus, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2016 against the Missouri Department of Corrections and its medical care provider (Corizon). Now four years later, a federal judge approved a settlement in this case, which includes providing $50 million in hepatitis C treatment and education to Missouri prisoners over the next eight years. The settlement agreement requires the Corrections Department and Corizon, the contractor providing medical care to Missouri prisons, to share test results related to hepatitis C and give inmates with hepatitis C free access to their medical records.

Illinois Times: Prison health care still bad
A court-appointed monitor, Dr. John Raba, was retained to figure out what's wrong with prison health care in Illinois. In his report, Raba catalogs staffing shortages, breakdowns in care and failure of the state Department of Corrections to properly oversee vendors, including Wexford Health Sources, a Pennsylvania company that holds a contract worth nearly $1.4 billion to provide health care in Illinois prisons. Nine Wexford doctors working in state prisons have been disciplined by state licensure authorities, Raba writes, and three currently are on probation, but Wexford hasn't told the state about disciplinary histories, and problematic doctors aren't being sufficiently monitored.

San Diego Union Tribune: At least 96 inmates, staff at one San Diego federal jail have COVID-19
At least 86 inmates and 10 staff members from the Western Region Detention Facility, a privately-run downtown San Diego federal jail, have active cases of COVID-19, according to the company that operates the facility and defense attorneys briefed on the matter. One of the employees was hospitalized Monday, while the nine others were “at home on self-quarantine,” according to a statement from a GEO Group spokesperson. GEO Group is the private company that operates the facility on West C Street on behalf of the United States Marshals Service.