COCHS Weekly Update: November 24, 2020

Medicaid and Justice Involved Populations

The Commonwealth Fund: Medicaid’s Evolving Role in Advancing the Health of People Involved in the Justice System
In an issue brief, for the Commonwealth Fund, COCHS' Vikki Wachino, Dan Mistak, and Natasha Camhi describe the health care needs of people involved in the justice system, how Medicaid’s role in providing coverage for this population has evolved to address those needs, and new policy changes that states and the federal government are advancing. Several factors are driving efforts to strengthen health care for people who spend time in jails and prisons or are otherwise involved with the criminal justice system. These include the impact of COVID-19 behind bars, the need to address the country’s mental health and substance use crises, and interest in helping people successfully rejoin their families and communities after they are released from prison or jail.

Health Payer Intelligence: How Medicaid Expansion Helps Incarcerated Persons Amid COVID-19
States can use Medicaid expansion and additional Medicaid policies—such as beginning Medicaid eligibility determinations pre-release and suspending Medicaid coverage during incarceration—to handle the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on incarcerated populations, a study published in Health Affairs found.

Criminal Justice's Mental Health Initiatives

The National Council for Behavioral Health: Bipartisan Criminal Justice, Mental Health Bill Introduce in House and Senate
New bipartisan legislation would provide aid and resources to the intersection of our nation’s mental health treatment and criminal justice systems. The Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act would authorize $10 million in grants to communities to create collaborative programs involving justice agencies and community-based behavioral health providers, including Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). It would also create a national technical assistance center to serve communities around the country.

CNN: A Washington county will let community groups decide punishments for some accused felons
The most populous county in Washington state is moving forward with a plan that will allow community groups -- instead of courts -- decide the punishment for some low level felonies. Instead of facing a judge, community partners would decide how to hold the offender accountable, according to Jimmy Hung, the chief deputy of the juvenile division of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. Details of the program will be worked out over the next few months, Hung said, but that accountability could include mental health counseling, drug treatment, going back to school or other interventions designed to help the offender turn their lives around.

KPIX: New Mental Health Facility Chosen Over New Jail In Unanimous Vote By Santa Clara County Supervisors
In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors reinforced its commitment to build a new mental health facility instead of a new jail, but the path will not be easy. In October, the board voted to halt reconstruction plans on the now-demolished Main Jail South and instead replace jail cells by focusing on mental health needs of residents.

KSAT: Commissioner-elect supports proposal for mental health care unit at Bexar County Jail
The inability to provide adequate resources to Bexar County Jail inmates with mental health issues is why Sheriff Javier Salazar said creating a mental health care unit in the jail is a top priority. Part of the plan includes re-purposing part of the jail for the unit and bringing in mental health care specialists.

ideastream: New Mental Health And Addiction Center Announced For Cleveland's East Side
A new mental health and addiction center will open on Cleveland’s East Side in early 2021. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish made the announcement at a Board of Health press conference on Friday, and he compared the need for mental health services to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Incarceration's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

The Patriot Ledger: State prisons failing on mental health, according to federal investigators
Massachusetts correctional officials violate inmates' constitutional rights by providing insufficient supervision and mental health care, failing to protect them from self-harm and frequently placing them into restrictive housing, federal prosecutors concluded Tuesday after a two-year investigation. Citing hundreds of examples, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling's office and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division found that staff of the state's Department of Correction fail to prevent self-harm or suicide among inmates who are already on mental health watch, in many cases because of a lack of "clear and uniform training."

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

New York Times: America Is Letting the Coronavirus Rage Through Prisons
The editorial board of the New York Times writes: As Americans grapple with how — or whether — to gather with loved ones this holiday season, the roughly two million people confined in the nation’s prisons and jails face an even grimmer challenge: how to stay alive inside a system being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. The American penal system is a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Squabbles over mask wearing and social distancing are essentially moot inside overcrowded facilities, many of them old and poorly ventilated, with tight quarters and with hygiene standards that are difficult to maintain.

Corrections 1: Interrupting COVID-19 in jails and prisons
In an op-ed, Tim Stephens, Don Hulick, Gary Maynard, Keith Neely and John Walsh, PhD write: We can and must break the cycle of COVID-19 in corrections. We must use the next round of federal funding to address this issue for all people, for those living and working inside the wire, and those outside. Corrections must be part of the all-of-society effort to contain the spread of the outbreak. We recommend at a minimum: 1)Corrections have specific, dedicated funding for decreasing the COVID outbreak; 2)The entire corrections operation (visitations, home monitoring, corrections personnel health protections and behavioral health programs) be eligible for funding; 3)The entire judicial process (intake, processing, court hearings and inter-facility transfers) be included to ensure transmission between the community can be managed.

The Hill: DOJ watchdog finds Louisiana inmates with coronavirus were not isolated for a week
In a report released Tuesday, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that a Louisiana prison did not not isolate inmates infected with coronavirus for about one week. The watchdog found that some infected inmates were left in their housing units for up to six days without being isolated. In addition, staff who supervised these inmates were not made aware that they tested positive nor given proper personal protective equipment.

The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah inmates are dying from coronavirus, as advocates call for an investigation
In Utah, prison officials had been successful for months at keeping the coronavirus out of its two facilities. But as COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Utah, the virus crept in for the first time in October — and hasn’t left. The Utah Department of Corrections’ handling of how the virus spread has frustrated family members and advocates, who worry that not enough is being done to keep those incarcerated safe. Prisoners have complained of inadequate medical care, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

News 4: Nearly 90% of inmates at Carson City prison infected with COVID-19
Nearly 90% of inmates at Carson City's Warm Springs Correctional Center have been infected with COVID-19, according to the State of Nevada's online dashboard. The outbreak is the worst among all of the state's prisons and conservation camps - with 525 total positive cases between the inmates and staff as of Nov. 20.

COVID-19 California Jail/Prison Crisis

Valley Public Radio: Avenal’s Prison Labor Contract Allows Actions The CDC—And Kings County—Warned Could Spread COVID-19
More than 3,300 inmates and staff have tested positive for the virus at Avenal, a total that’s higher than any other prison in California and possibly in the entire country. Eight incarcerated men have died. The union that represents prison guards confirms that picking up overtime shifts in different facilities falls under its contract with the state prison system. In contrast, county public health officials, and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warn against this practice, cautioning that it poses a risk of spreading the disease.

CAL MATTERS: Could California’s psych hospitals be ordered to admit inmates with COVID?
In an Oct. 23 hearing, attorneys representing mentally ill prison inmates awaiting state psychiatric beds argued the hospitals are violating court-imposed timelines for transfers and should start accepting the prisoners without first requiring negative COVID tests. To avoid delays, they say, the hospitals should even start admitting prisoners who have tested positive.

Desert Sun: Riverside County Sheriff fined $18,000 for OSHA violations at Murrieta jail
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited the Riverside County Sheriff's Department last week for several COVID-19 related violations at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta related to the department's infection control procedures and lack of training on the danger of aerosol transmissible diseases. The inspections were initiated the same day that Deputy Terrell Young died from complications related to COVID-19, which he had contracted while escorting an inmate at the Murrieta jail to the hospital on March 16.

San Diego Union Tribune: New COVID-19 outbreak forces transfer of dozens of county jail inmates
An explosion of new coronavirus infections among San Diego County jail inmates has forced officials to relocate dozens of detainees. At least two men testing positive for COVID-19 were released in recent days, according to sheriff’s department records reviewed by The San Diego Union-Tribune. Another inmate was rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment, the records show.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Vendors

VT Digger: Report on death of Black inmate who pleaded for help rips corrections, health care provider
A new report into the death of Kenneth Johnson, a 60-year-old Black man, in the Newport prison delivers another scathing review of the actions, or lack of them, by the Vermont Department of Corrections and contracted medical staff. The 38-page document outlines instances where Johnson, while stating that he couldn’t breathe in the infirmary of the Northern State Correctional Facility, was threatened with being placed in the “hole,” or disciplinary segregation in a holding cell, if he didn’t “knock it off.” The report released Monday, though more detailed, provides the same blistering take as prior reports about how the Vermont Department of Corrections and its contracted health care provider, Virginia-based Centurion Managed Care, acted at the time of Johnson’s death.

Washington Post: Congressional Dems say women in ICE custody who blew whistle on gynecologist should be able to apply for special visas
A group of more than 100 congressional Democrats demanded Thursday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release female detainees from a Georgia detention facility (Irwin County Detention Center run by LaSalle Southwest Corporation) who allege they received subpar gynecological care while detained there. The lawmakers say the women may be potential witnesses in an ongoing federal investigation into Mahendra Amin, a physician who the women allege conducted “nonconsensual and medically unnecessary” gynecological procedures on female detainees at Irwin County Detention Center.