COCHS Weekly Update: December 8, 2020

COVID-19 Vaccines for The Incarcerated

ABC News: Prisons should be COVID-19 vaccine priority: Health experts
After a federal advisory committee recommended this week that health care workers, nursing home residents and staff be the first to receive COVID-19 vaccines, discussions turned to who should be next in line, as initial supplies remain limited. Prisoners should be high on the list, according to the American Medical Association, the nation's largest physician group, which this month called for incarcerated people to "be prioritized in receiving access to safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines in the initial phases of distribution."

Mother Jones: The Freakout About Giving COVID Vaccines to Prisoners Has Already Begun
Toward the end of a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was asked about a proposal to give the state’s prisoners early access to the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine. Polis replied that no prisoners would be prioritized to get vaccinated before the free seniors or people with coronavirus-related health risks. “There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners,” he chuckled, “before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime. That’s obvious.”

The New York Times: Prisons Are Covid-19 Hotbeds. When Should Inmates Get the Vaccine?
Should prisoners and other detainees be given priority access to one of the new Covid-19 vaccines? With distribution expected to start as early as this month, public health officials are scrambling to develop guidelines for the equitable allocation of limited vaccine supplies. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Tuesday to make initial determinations about who gets the first shots.

Spectrum News: How (and When) Will People in New York Prisons Be Vaccinated?
The top lawmakers in the Legislature's health committees on Friday called for a vaccination plan for those living in congregate settings to include people in the state's prison system. The first 170,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in New York will be made available on December 15, with nursing home residents and staff a priority. But concerns during the pandemic from prison reform advocates have focused on the spread of the virus in prisons, where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

CT Mirror: Prisoners will be in second round for COVID vaccine
The announcement that prisoners will be in the second group of residents to get the coronavirus vaccine followed days of calls from advocates that the roughly 9,240 people behind bars in Connecticut be given the same priority as other residents living in congregate settings, such as nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. The ACLU of Connecticut, which has twice sued the state over its handling of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, sent a letter to Lamont on Wednesday urging him to consider the incarcerated in his vaccine rollout plan

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Crime Report: COVID-19 Surge Could Overwhelm Prison Resources
Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, prisons are still grappling with how best to control a virus that is intensifying. COVID-19 has continued to spread widely in detention facilities, despite officials taking measures to stem it. Prisons have released thousands of inmates to ease overcrowding, stepped up health screenings among visitors and adopted protocols such as mask wearing for inmates and staff.

Gothamist: As NYC Cases Rise, Rikers Island Sees Huge Jump In COVID-19 Exposure
As New York City’s COVID-19 positivity continues to rise, the City’s Department of Correction has insisted that the jail system’s seven-day average positivity rate remains lower than the city’s. But advocates warn a surge is on its way if the city fails to act fast. A letter sent Thursday by the Legal Aid Society to New York City’s Board of Correction, the body that oversees city jails, highlighted that the number of people inside Rikers Island who either had COVID-19 or who were exposed to it jumped nearly 700% during the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 California Jail/Prison Crisis

Los Angeles Daily News: Fears of more COVID-19 spread as thousands of L.A. County inmates await transfer to state prisons
The number of inmates in Los Angeles County’s jails is climbing and officials are worried overcrowding is leading to more dangerous conditions just as a wave of new coronavirus cases sweeps the region. Sheriff’s Department officials said Wednesday that state prisons stopped accepting new transfers of inmates from county jails on Nov. 26 as they try to stem an overwhelming spike in COVID-19 cases. In just the last two weeks, at least 3,101 inmates in state prisons have tested positive, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s daily tracker.

The San Francisco Chronicle: Mesa Verde detention center must keep testing detainees for COVID, over ICE’s objections
Immigration officials at a detention facility in Bakersfield have ignored the dangers of COVID-19, have lied repeatedly about their actions, and have shown they cannot be trusted to protect the health of detainees and staff, a federal judge said Thursday. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of San Francisco ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its contractor, the GEO Group, to continue weekly coronavirus testing of detainees and staff members at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility

Fox News: LA County sheriff: Deputies won't enforce Newsom's stay-at-home order
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva will not instruct his deputies to enforce a new statewide stay-at-home order announced Thursday that could force businesses to temporarily shut down as coronavirus cases continue to soar. Under Gov. Gavin Newsom's order, many businesses and activities would be forced to close for at least three weeks if capacity rates at intensive care units in several regions -- the Bay Area, Northern California, the greater Sacramento region, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California -- dip below 15%.

The San Diego Union Tribune: Inmate’s family sues San Diego County over his death, alleges it was COVID
Sometime on June 29, sheriff’s deputies at the Vista Detention Facility found Mark Armendo unresponsive on the floor of his cell. His condition worsened. Armendo was suffering from pneumonia and seizures. He was moved to UCSD Medical Center on July 4 “for a higher level of care” but the medical experts could not save him, according to an investigation by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. Armendo’s family on Nov. 20 sued San Diego County, alleging Armendo was infected with COVID-19 while at the Vista jail.

The Modesto Bee: Two deputies file complaint as coronavirus outbreak grows at Stanislaus County jail
Almost 100 inmates and staff at the Stanislaus County jail have tested positive for the coronavirus, as authorities deal with a growing outbreak. The Sheriff’s Department is also facing criticism in a complaint that it’s not following its own protocols and mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 illness. Authorities reported last week that 25 inmates and eight staff members were infected with the virus in a minimum security area of the jail on East Hackett Road. The numbers have grown to 75 inmates and 24 staff members who have tested positive

CBS 8: COVID-19 cases in San Diego County jails continue to rise
Coronavirus cases continue to spike in the San Diego County jail system and now the union that represents the staff members there is speaking out. Public health officials also talked about the rise of COVID-19 cases in local jails Wednesday afternoon. At the press conference, county health officials said the number of COVID-19 cases in county jails hasn’t increased that much. However, the union rep for the jail’s staff painted a different picture.

COVID-19 Delays in Due Process

The New York Times: Only 9 Trials in 9 Months: Virus Wreaks Havoc on N.Y.C. Courts
A Brooklyn trial was postponed after the defense lawyers said they were unwilling to spend weeks inside a cramped courtroom. In Manhattan, a woman summoned for jury duty told the court she had been sick with the coronavirus and was symptomatic. Another trial, in the Bronx, was canceled when four courthouse staff members tested positive. Since October, state and federal court officials have taken extraordinary measures to restart criminal trials in New York City. But those efforts have not stopped the virus from disrupting nearly every step of the process. The state and federal courts in the city have been able to complete only nine criminal jury trials since the pandemic hit in March.

AZ Central: Inmates in federal custody seeing delays in restoration process due to COVID-19
It’s been almost three years since Bryan Alvarez-Dominguez was arrested for bringing meth from Mexico into the U.S. But he still hasn’t been sentenced. He was found incompetent to stand trial so he had to wait to be “restored” in jail. He says it’s been difficult. Difficult because he has a developmental disability, difficult because there aren’t mental health professionals in jail, and difficult because it’s really hard being away from his family. The hard part is they have to wait it out in jail. It’s a slow process that’s been exacerbated by COVID-19.

Criminal Justice and Racial Disparities

Public Policy Institute of California: Racial Disparities in California Law Enforcement Stops
CHP, the state’s largest agency, enforces traffic laws on state and county highways. At about 98%, almost all CHP stops are traffic violations—reasonable suspicion is rarely the reason a CHP officer stops an individual (0.5%). Across these eight law enforcement agencies, racial differences are evident in the reason for a stop. More African American residents than white residents are stopped for reasonable suspicion at all agencies except CHP (2.5% of stops of white residents vs. 0.7% of African Americans) and Los Angeles PD (26.8% white vs. 26.6% African American). Notably, San Diego SD reports that 28.3% of stops with white residents are for reasonable suspicion, while 40.8% of stops with African American residents are for this reason.

Health Care of Detained Children

The New York Times: Why Are Children Dying of the Flu in U.S. Detention?
In an op-ed, Mario Mendoza, writes: As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, Americans have another disease to worry about — the flu. Fortunately, there’s already a cheap, effective and readily available influenza vaccine. So why aren’t migrant children in U.S. detention facilities getting it when we know the flu can be deadly? Under the Trump administration, at least three children who were detained have died of the flu.

Medicaid Expansion and Justice Involved

The Center Square: Medicaid expansion could lead to criminal justice reform in North Carolina, expert says
Medicaid expansion could reduce criminal justice spending in North Carolina, a health management expert said. Greg Moody, director of Ohio's Governor's Office of Health Transformation, told North Carolina health care stakeholders Friday that Ohio has increased its behavioral health system capacity by 60%, leading to a cost savings of $1 billion a year because of its Medicaid expansion. Most of the support for Ohio's Medicaid expansion came from county sheriffs, "who were fed up with untreated addiction in jails," Moody said.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

The San Diego Union Tribune: The training police officers receive is inadequate for responding to mental health crises
In an op-ed, Abdallah-Elnakib a Muslim American civil rights activist and mental health clinician, writes: Efforts to fundamentally change how police departments respond to someone experiencing a mental health emergency should be a top priority. In fact, many people are calling for a complete removal of the involvement of police officers in response to mental health crises. As a mental health clinician and advocate, I have witnessed the trauma experienced when police respond to mental health crises with force due to ignorance and lack of education on mental health issues.

Voices of The Incarcerated and Their Families

KREM 2: Families of Spokane County inmates concerned about COVID-19 outbreaks
Geiger Corrections Center is reporting six inmates and six staff have tested positive for COVID-19. The Department of Corrections dashboard is also reporting dozens of inmates have contracted the virus at Airway Heights Correction Center. Many families of inmates at these facilities claim this is the result of poor implementation of health guidelines. Some families believe not all inmates are provided a mask. Since the start of the pandemic, inmates were only given masks during their 14 days of quarantine when they first arrive at the Geiger facility.

The San Francisco Chronicle: Inmate at state’s largest prison says he was cuffed after stating concerns about COVID-19 protocols
For a month now, 35-year-old Clifford Meyer has watched a coronavirus outbreak explode at the California prison where he is incarcerated, feeling helpless to protect himself. But recently he decided to say something — and ended up in handcuffs. When prison staff tried to move a new man into an empty spot in Meyer’s eight-man cell, he got nervous, he said in an interview via JPay, a prison email service. Days earlier, another man sleeping mere feet away from Meyer had developed COVID-19 symptoms and was removed by staff, and Meyer suspected that his new cellmate might also be infectious.

19 News: Family of 3rd inmate to die at the Cuyahoga County Jail this year demands answers
A “call to action” for transparency at the Cuyahoga County Jail after a third inmate this year has died on their watch. The Cuyahoga County Jail has had its’ share of problems over the years and the family of an inmate recently murdered at the hands of his cellmate -- wants to know how this could happen when there are officers paid to watch over them and keep the peace.

Pro Publica: The Way Prisoners Flag Guard Abuse, Inadequate Health Care and Unsanitary Conditions Is Broken
People locked inside prisons rely on grievances to complain if their needs, from health care to sanitation to safety, are unmet. The complaints are among their few means of recourse. But in Illinois, that system is sputtering, with little oversight, leaving prisoners vulnerable to harm, an investigation by WBEZ and ProPublica has found. The state has paid millions to settle the claims of inmates, some of whom raised concerns early through grievances, only to later suffer serious injuries when authorities denied complaints or failed to act.


The Washington Post: Nonviolent offenders need help, not jail. That’s what my city is giving them.
In an op-ed, Zach Klein, city attorney and prosecutor in Columbus, Ohio, writes: Our criminal justice system is broken. Prisons are overcrowded. Recidivism runs rampant. Our system should keep communities safe by incarcerating dangerous offenders while rehabilitating those who can become productive members of society. Here in Columbus, the city attorney’s office last year began a pretrial “diversion” program to identify and treat the root causes of why people commit crimes. It’s called “diversion” because the emphasis is moving people toward rehabilitation, not incarceration.

Opioid Epidemic

Politico: Biden’s other health crisis: A resurgent drug epidemic
President-elect Joe Biden, long viewed as a drug policy hawk during his four decades in the Senate, is signaling a different approach to confronting a still-raging drug addiction epidemic made worse by the pandemic. Biden, who has stocked his team with addiction experts with extensive backgrounds in public health, will emphasize new funding for substance abuse treatment and prevention, while calling to eliminate jail time for drug use. It’s a departure from his tough-on-crime approach as a senator — and from President Donald Trump’s frequent focus on a law enforcement response to the drug crisis, which experts said undercut necessary public health measures.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Providers

New Orleans Public Radio: Cameroonian Immigrants Say They Were Beaten, Pepper-sprayed, Forced To Sign Deportation Documents
Cameroonian immigrants held at detention centers under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) New Orleans Field Office say officers and facility staff members pepper-sprayed, beat, forcefully restrained, and humiliated them to make them sign travel documents related to their deportation. The first complaint, dated Oct. 7, 2020, detailed the use-of-force against eight Cameroonian immigrants at Adams County Correctional Center, a private detention center in Natchez, Miss. It’s owned by CoreCivic, which owns and operates prisons and detention centers all over the United States.

Hartford Currant: Connecticut settles suit by inmate who gave birth in prison cell
A Connecticut prison inmate who gave birth on a toilet in her cell and claimed she was denied medical care has agreed to settle her lawsuit against state prison officials. The woman's lawyers said prison officials and medical staff violated her constitutional rights by denying and delaying medical care and acted with a reckless, malicious and wanton disregard for her and the baby’s lives. Following the birth, two UConn Health employees, who provided medical care at the prison, were escorted out and told not to return while the matter was under review.