COCHS Weekly Update: December 1, 2020


JAMA Network: COVID-19, Decarceration, and the Role of Clinicians, Health Systems, and Payers
Despite being a focal point of the pandemic and past respiratory outbreaks, correctional facilities have not consistently been included in pandemic planning or guidance. Unlike in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which were also sources of outbreaks, health care in prisons and jails has no mandatory independent quality oversight nor is it integrated with the community health systems. The consequences include variability and failures in pandemic management.

Medicaid and Justice Involved Populations

The Commonwealth Fund (Updated Link): 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.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce: Kentucky seeks to be first in the nation to treat substance use disorder in prisons using Medicaid dollars
Kentucky has applied for a Medicaid waiver that would allow the use of Medicaid funding to treat substance use disorder in the state’s prisons and county jails. If approved, Kentucky would be the first in the nation to have such an arrangement. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander says it is critical for the state to take these steps to help those in need, as “what happens to one of us in a community happens to us all, and we need to be concerned about that.”

2020 Election

Time: From Easing Drug Laws to Increasing Police Oversight, Criminal Justice Reform Won Big in the 2020 Election
In a victory for criminal justice advocates, U.S. voters approved sweeping measures that will restore voting rights to tens of thousands of people on parole, reign in the power of several big-city police departments and ease drug laws. Among the biggest victories was the passage of Proposition 17 in California, which allows about 50,000 people on state parole to vote after completing their prison sentences. Advocates say the change will reduce recidivism, expand democracy and inject more fairness into the justice system.

STAT: Decriminalization could help ease the nation’s drug epidemic, but the devil is in the details
Among the 120 statewide ballot measures before voters in the 2020 election, drug decriminalization measures passed in six states. In Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, voters approved legalizing marijuana use for adults, while Mississippi voters approved the use of medical marijuana. But Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Hill: How the CDC can get serious about the health of incarcerated people
Since the onset of COVID-19, the critical role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in saving lives and protecting people from health threats has been in full view. Incarcerated people have long been denied the expertise of the CDC and local health departments, but COVID-19 reveals a path to changing this feature of injustice in health.

Star tribune: Federal prisons to prioritize staff to receive virus vaccine
The federal prison system will be among the first government agencies to receive the coronavirus vaccine, though initial allotments of the vaccine will be given to staff and not to inmates, even though sickened prisoners vastly outnumber sickened staff, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

US News and World Report: COVID-19 in Custody: Alabama Ranks 9th for Inmate Deaths
At the Bibb Correctional Facility in Alabama, the old prison chapel has been turned into a quarantine zone. The sound of coughing is constant. And some people appear afraid to enter the room. An inmate described life in the quarantine to The Associated Press, speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation. The prison system has enforced the wearing of masks among inmates, but he said crowded dormitories like his offer nowhere to hide from the virus.

In Forum: Despite safety measures, coronavirus has surged in two North Dakota prisons
Cases in two large facilities have risen over the last month, just after North Dakota numbers started to climb. Inmates and staff have worn masks and followed the rules, but outside communities' lack of willingness to follow recommendations may have contributed to an outbreak, a representative from the ACLU said.

COVID-19 California Jail/Prison Crisis

The Daily Beast: COVID Has Struck 5 Pregnant Women in the L.A. County Jail, Lawyers Say
As the pandemic continues to ravage U.S. jail populations, a total of five pregnant women have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Los Angeles County jail, according to lawyers suing the system for allegedly inadequate health protections. Nearly 20 pregnant women are locked up in the country’s largest jail, according to lawyers for the ACLU; that’s double the number held there in May, when the county attempted to reduce the prison population due to the pandemic. The numbers crept back up over the intervening months, even as the virus continued to spread.

COVID-19 Preventive Strategies in Corrections

ABC News Channel 12: Prisons suspending, consolidating some operations amid COVID-19 surge
Some North Carolina prisons are adjusting operations in an effort to mitigate the state's surge of COVID-19 and its impact on prisons. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety said this will allow for the temporary reassignment of select staff to prisons in need of additional medical and security personnel to handle outbreaks. These actions will let more offenders be medically treated within the prison system, officials said, reducing stress on hospitals in the community. This will also reduce the number of offenders transported for outside medical treatment, increasing public safety, they add.

Star Tribune: Green Rock and other prisons begin weekly COVID-19 testing, acquire new technology
The Virginia Department of Corrections continues to aggressively test inmates and staff for COVID-19 and has taken steps toward soon being able to acquire test results in minutes as opposed to days. The department recently began weekly testing of infirmary staff to better ensure the safety of inmates and staff in this vulnerable setting. The entire staff at facilities with infirmaries can be tested weekly if necessary.

Incarceration's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

El Paso Times: Q&A with NAMI Texas’ executive director about mental health during the pandemic
In Texas, approximately 1,400 prisoners and jail inmates are awaiting competency restoration through the state psychiatric hospital system. The average number of days to obtain a maximum security and non-maximum security placement are roughly 280 and 80 days, respectively. Prolonged waits for competency restoration can worsen mental health outcomes, contribute to an over-crowded prison and jail systems, and jeopardize the safety of prisoners, inmates and prison or jail staff.

The Intercept: How the Criminal Justice System Fails People With Mental Illness
How those with mental illness are treated in the system has become a focus in the ongoing calls for criminal justice reform that have increased in volume since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May. At least 25 percent of fatal police encounters involve a person with mental illness, and individuals with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with police, according to a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Criminal Justice's Mental Health Initiatives

KSTP: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office adds social worker position to the jail
Hennepin County leaders hope to reach about a thousand people suffering with mental illness or complex co-occurring conditions who cycle from detention, to psychiatric treatment at a hospital, to the streets and back. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the health and human services social worker will be paired with a deputy and records staff. They will help identify those who may need services that are not provided by the jail.

Violence Against Transgender People in Prison

The New York Times: Back in Prison, Transgender Woman Faces an Old Horror, Sexual Assault
For Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman serving time in Georgia for nonviolent offenses, it seemed like something akin to victory. After years of denying her hormone therapy, housing her with male prisoners and failing to protect her from sexual assault, the Georgia Department of Corrections changed its treatment policy, released Ms. Diamond on parole and reached a settlement in her lawsuit. She became a leading voice for incarcerated transgender people. Five years later, it is as if she had never won.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Vendors

Newsday: Nassau lawmakers OK $450,000 settlement with family of inmate who died in jail
Nassau County lawmakers approved a $450,000 settlement Monday with the family of an Oceanside man whose 2014 death in jail custody became a symbol to critics of inadequate inmate health care that led to demands for reform. John Gleeson’s family said in a 2015 federal lawsuit against Nassau County, its jail and ex-jail medical vendor, Armor Correctional Health Services, that he was denied competent and necessary care by defendants who also included former Sheriff Michael Sposato.

Statesman: Opinion: Biden presidency spells trouble for private prison corporations — and that’s a good thing
In an op-ed Bob Libal a criminal and immigration reform advocate writes: News that Joe Biden will become the nation’s 46th president has sent for-profit prison company stocks plummeting to depths not seen in recent history. While a Biden presidency spells trouble for prison profiteers, it could be good news for efforts to shrink the footprint of our nation’s mass incarceration and immigration detention systems.

The Garden Island: Hawai‘i inmate dies of COVID-19 in Arizona
A male Saguaro Correctional Center inmate, who was 60 to 69 years old with underlying medical conditions, died last week at an Arizona hospital. Saguaro Correctional Center (SCC) is a privately-run correctional center run by the CoreCivic Corporation.