COCHS Weekly Update: January 26, 2021

COVID-19 Lawsuit

The Fresno Bee: Tulare County sheriff criticized — and sued by ACLU — for COVID-19 outbreak at jails
A COVID-19 outbreak sweeping through Tulare County’s correctional facilities in California is worrying criminal justice advocates who say the crisis is being exacerbated by a sheriff they say is not taking the right measures to protect inmates. In July, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of inmates in Tulare County’s jails, accusing Sheriff Mike Boudreaux of failing to implement state-mandated health protocols to protect inmates across the county’s five facilities from getting sick. Inmates who were sick were being neglected, denied medical attention, and ignored when they asked to be tested. Many were shuffled in and out of cells and around the facility, potentially exposing others to infection.

COVID-19 Early Release

Cross Roads Interview: Bureau Of Prisons Policy on Compassionate Release, Justice Reform & Coronavirus in Prisons
At 10am EST today (1/26), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, speaks with Roach Brown (on WPFW 89.3 FM) about the Bureau of Prison's compassionate release program.

COVID-19 Vaccines in Corrections

WDBJ: Virginia’s state-run jails offer inmates free phone credits, care packages in exchange for vaccine
The Virginia Department of Corrections is encouraging inmates to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, promising free email stamps, phone credits and care packages if they get it. Meanwhile, local and regional jails in southwest Virginia are awaiting further guidance from health officials. The DOC released a statement Thursday in which the department explained it began phase 1-B vaccinations last week. VADOC medical staffers are administering the Moderna vaccine and plan to update their website on their progress every Friday. As of Friday, January 15, VADOC has inoculated about 1,177 staff and 648 of the nearly 25,000 inmates.

Huffpost: Delaying Vaccines For America’s Prison Population Will Make The Pandemic Worse
People who are incarcerated are four times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 and twice as likely to die as the rest of the population. It is nearly impossible for most people in prison to abide by public health recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19. Public health experts are therefore urging states to prioritize getting vaccines to the incarcerated. Vaccinating those who are incarcerated makes everyone else safer, too. Because staff enter and exit prisons and jails daily, outbreaks in those facilities will almost certainly spread into the surrounding communities.

The Christian Science Monitor: Why protecting prisons from COVID-19 is everyone’s problem
Among the country’s roughly 2.3 million prisoners, there have been at least 329,000 reported COVID-19 cases behind bars, taking the lives of at least 2,020. The health care system behind bars was “deeply flawed” even before the pandemic, says Homer Venters, former chief medical officer for New York City’s jails. In a report last month, the Prison Policy Institute analyzed the density of incarcerated populations and the increase in pandemic caseloads in that area. It estimates that mass incarceration was responsible for an additional 500,000 cases over the summer.

WBEZ: Virus Hot Spot Cook County Jail Has Begun Vaccinating Guards. Will They Take It?
Cook County has begun vaccinating workers at the county jail, making them among the first frontline essential workers in the Chicago area to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The jail has been a virus hot spot, with four jail guards and 10 detainees killed by the novel coronavirus. One study last summer found that one in six COVID-19 cases in Illinois could be traced back to the jail on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Health officials have warned that the jail’s current population, sitting at more than 5,000 detainees, makes social distancing a challenge.

ABC 13 News: NC prison system begins COVID-19 vaccinations
Around 1,000 of the 1,300 vaccines allocated for the prison system this week have arrived, and the rest of the week’s allocation is expected to arrive and be distributed within days. This week’s allocation is the Moderna vaccine. These will be the first vaccinations performed by prisons’ staff. Over the past two weeks, many of the eligible prisons’ healthcare staff have been vaccinated through their local health departments.

27 News: “Our members are overworked, exhausted” Pa. State corrections officers want COVID-19 vaccine
The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association called on Acting Department of Health Secretary Alison Beam to prioritize correction officers in state prisons over smokers for the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday. “It’s one thing to follow CDC guidelines regarding smokers, but that doesn’t prevent the administration from making the vaccination of its own corrections officers a higher priority,” said PSCOA Western Region Vice President John Eckenrode.

COVID-19 Voices of Inmates and Their Families

San Francisco Chronicle: Santa Clara County Jail inmates end hunger strike after 9 days
Fifty-three prisoners at the Santa Clara County Jail stopped eating for nine days to protest coronavirus conditions, stating that they ended their hunger strike only when they were satisfied that the jail was cleaning up unsanitary living conditions, making sure officers wore masks and gloves, and improving protocols for quarantining inmates who test positive. The strikers sent written demands on Day 1 of the strike, insisting that staff follow public health guidelines and the jail reinstate visits, establish clear communications with the inmates on all protocols, and respond substantively to grievances and appeals.

23 WIFR: Winnebago mom starts petition to prioritize vaccinations for people with underlying health conditions
A Winnebago mom starts a petition to advocate for her son and thousands of people in the state of Illinois who have underlying health conditions to receive COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible. “This is someone who actually needs to get it per every doctor and specialist that he has, they said absolutely he’s got to get the vaccine,” Petition creator Jodi Murray said. Jodi’s son Andrew was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at a young age, the disease impacts his muscular system and his lungs.

WBUR: Families Of Prisoners Hospitalized With COVID Often Cannot Get Critical Details
Last month, Carmen Berry heard her 57-year-old son, Nelson Rodriquez, was taken from MCI-Norfolk, where he's been incarcerated, and hospitalized with COVID-19. Another prisoner called to tell the family. When she called the Massachusetts Department of Correction to find out more, Berry says she was told the DOC could not provide protected health information about a prisoner.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The San Diego Union Tribune: As virus spreads unchecked, 6 more inmates at Donovan state prison succumb to COVID-19
Six more inmates have died from COVID-19 at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility over the past 11 days, pushing the total number of fatalities to 15 since the pandemic erupted and tying the Otay Mesa prison for the third-deadliest lockup in the state. Family members of people being held inside the prison describe horrific conditions that are propelling — rather than limiting — the spread of the disease.

COVID-19 and MAT in Corrections

Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts: Policy Brief: The Provision of Medications for Opioid Use Disorder in Correctional Settings in the Time of COVID-19: Opportunities and Solutions
In a new FORE policy brief, experts Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, Ph.D., and Nickolas D. Zaller, Ph.D., explore strategies for ensuring people in jails and prisons have uninterrupted access to medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) during the pandemic. These include taking advantage of a new federal waiver that allows providers to initiate MOUD via telemedicine, without a prior physical examination; providing adequate medication supplies upon release; and offering virtual counseling and peer support. They offer case examples from Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Cook County, Illinois, to help correctional agencies partner with public health practitioners to respond to this pandemic and prepare for the next one.

COVID-19 Testing

The Marshall Project: Prisons Are Releasing People Without COVID-19 Tests Or Quarantines
Even as prisons have proved hotspots of COVID-19, the pandemic has posed new challenges for the people who leave them—and the communities they re-enter. Even as some states have accelerated the release of prisoners to stem contagion, relatively few systematically test or quarantine people before they leave. The risks of further contagion are high because prisoners are going home to family or to halfway houses and transitional housing units where they share rooms with other formerly incarcerated people. Others may travel hundreds of miles on public transportation to get home.

COVID-19 Impacting Housing Post Incarceration

The Crime Report: How COVID-19 Worsens the Housing Crunch for Returning Citizens
It can be hard for people returning from a prison sentence to secure the housing they need to successfully reenter communities. For the roughly 25,000 people who depart Illinois prisons each year, the state maintains four adult transitional housing centers, which have room for just under 1,000 returnees. For many, the shortage of post-incarceration housing can derail reentry.

Mental Health in Corrections

WBUR: State Still Negotiating With DOJ Over Handling Of 'Mental Health Watches' In Prisons
Negotiations continue between Massachusetts correction officials and the Justice Department over last year's scathing federal report on mental health treatment in the state's prisons. Last November, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling released the report after a two-year investigation that found the state Department of Correction violated prisoners' constitutional rights by not providing adequate mental health care.

Tribune-Star: New mental health program aims to limit incarcerations
The relationship between substance abuse, mental illness and incarceration is well known to those who work day to day in the criminal justice system. A new program in Vigo County, Indiana, is aimed at helping those inmates with the dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance use to stay out of jail and move forward into a stable and healthy future. Established through the work release program at Vigo County Community Corrections, the new therapeutic program accepts qualified participants coming out of the Vigo County Jail.

Nutrition in Corrections

Foodtank: Report Details Harmful Consequences of Prison Food Policies
Impact Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to justice reform, recently released a report that finds the low standards of food in prisons can have long-term negative impacts on people who are incarcerated. The report finds that the current prison food system has unacceptably low standards. States spend under US$3 per day to feed one person. Meals have small portions and consist of largely processed foods high in carbohydrates, fat, and sugar and almost no fresh fruits and vegetables.

Correctional Health Care Vendors and Private Prisons

Marketplace: Biden’s immigration policy could affect the private prison industry
A study from the Marshall Project found that the portion of prison company CoreCivic’s revenue from immigration detention more than doubled between 2014 and 2019. Denise Gilman studies immigration law at the University of Texas at Austin. Under Trump, she said, “the private prison industry just changed its focus to the federal government and specifically to immigration detention and began engaging in much heavier lobbying and campaign contributions.” The campaign of President-elect Joe Biden promised to end for-profit detention centers.

The Advocate: Baton Rouge jail staff failed to prevent inmate suicide despite numerous red flags, lawsuit says
When Shaheed Claiborne was booked into jail last January after trying to break into a Baton Rouge detox center, law enforcement officials agreed he was experiencing serious mental illness. He died from suicide two days later, soon after receiving a cloth jumpsuit, which he used to hang himself inside his cell. Shaheed Claiborne, 41, was found dead several hours after a member of the jail medical staff — a program run by the private company CorrectHealth — took him off suicide watch.

Bloomberg Law: Corizon Health Must Face Clinicians’ Suit Over Inmate Harassment
Corizon Health Inc., which provides mental health services at Riker’s Island, N.Y., must face allegations by former female clinicians that it allowed the inmates receiving treatment to sexually harass them, a federal court said. The clinicians alleged that they were regularly subjected to conduct, including “threats of rape and other sexual violence, graphic sexual comments.