COCHS Weekly Update: February 23, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Grand Valley State University: Increased access to Medicaid coverage helps keep formerly incarcerated people from returning to prison, GVSU researcher finds
Former prisoners who qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are more likely to receive treatment for addiction and are less likely to return to prison, said a Grand Valley researcher. The study found that increasing access to Medicaid coverage under the ACA reduces violent crime recidivism by 30 percent, and public-order crime recidivism by 24 percent.

The Detroit News: COVID variant cases confirmed at two other Michigan prisons
Michigan Department of Corrections officials said late Tuesday they were working to contain an outbreak of the B.1.1.7 variant after 90 cases were confirmed in the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia. There were 88 cases among inmates and two cases among prison workers with the first case was confirmed to a prison employee. The Department of Corrections said 31 new inmate variant cases were confirmed at Bellamy Creek, bringing the total to 121 cases overall there. It appears to be the nation's largest cluster of the United Kingdom variant in the United States.

North Carolina Health News: Only 35% of NC prison staff willing to take vaccine
A little over a third of North Carolina’s correctional staff want to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to an informal survey by state prison leaders. The remaining employees, about 65 percent of detention staff, don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination is currently optional for correctional staff.

The Huffpost: People In Texas Jails Are ‘Freezing,’ Without Hot Food Or Running Water
“We’re in here freezing to death and starving,” Finis Prendergast, a 42-year-old National Guard veteran who has been incarcerated in a Harris County jail for 29 months, told HuffPost on Wednesday. On Tuesday night, corrections officers distributed 16-ounce water bottles, which people incarcerated at the facility now must use for drinking, brushing their teeth, and washing their hands. Meanwhile, the nine toilets in the facility — which are used by dozens of people — have been filled up to the brim with urine and feces.

COVID-19 Vaccines in Corrections

US News & World Report: A Healthy Sentence: Why Vaccinating Prisoners Should Be a Priority
In an op-ed, Wendy Netter Epstein, a professor of law and the faculty director of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Health Law Institute at DePaul University writes: As of mid-December, 1 in every 5 prisoners in the United States had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. That's a rate more than four times as high as the rate of the general population. At least 2,400 prisoners have died in connection with COVID-19. Science and public health information should compel policymakers to offer inmate vaccinations. Of particular concern are nonmetro counties with a very high density of inmates, like a rural county with a large prison. Prisons there could increase the COVID-19 infection rate by some 15% to 35% over comparable counties without prisons, according to the analysis. That's because prisons are not closed communities; staff members enter and leave, and prisoners are released and transferred.

7 News Boston: Suffolk Sheriff’s department blames private contractor for 100 spoiled doses of vaccine at jail
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department is blaming a private contractor for 100 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine spoiling at the county jail over the weekend. Ten vials, which each contained 10 doses of the vaccine, were inadvertently left out of storage at the Suffolk County House of Correction by a contract laborer employed by medical provider Naphcare, according to the sheriff’s department.

COVID-19 Prevention in Corrections

Chicago Sun Times: 30 COVID-related deaths, 400 hospitalizations averted by measures taken at Cook County Jail: study finds
Measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus at Cook County Jail saved dozens of lives and prevented hundreds of hospitalizations, researchers at Stanford and Yale universities said in a new study. Reducing the jail’s population and holding detainees in single cells were among the most effective steps taken to contain the virus and should be used in other institutional settings. Those measures, as well as widespread asymptomatic testing, led to an 83% reduction of new cases at the jail over an 83-day period. By reducing new cases, the researchers believe an estimated 435 additional COVID-related hospitalizations and 30 deaths of people held or working at the jail were prevented.

Click Orlando: State attorney changes incarceration policy due to Orange County jail’s COVID-19 outbreak
Orange Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell (FL) is changing her office’s policy on seeking incarceration for defendants in response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Orange County jail. The policy comes after an outbreak of virus cases at the Orange County Jail where 83 inmates contracted the virus, according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. The goal of the policy change is to reduce the population at the jail in an effort to slow the spread of infections, according to the state attorney’s office.

COVID-19 Treatment in Corrections

The Lancet: MAb for symptomatic COVID-19 in correctional facilities: an important opportunity
From a study in the Lacet: Jails and prisons across the USA are at the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the largest, single-site cluster outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country have occurred in jails and prisons. In November, 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 because these treatments prevent progression to severe disease and considerably reduce hospitalizations and emergency room visits. To our knowledge, mAbs have been sparsely used in correctional settings across the USA. This treatment, and any other approved treatment that has the potential to reduce serious disease and death from COVID-19, should be made widely available to individuals who are incarcerated or detained and meet eligibility criteria.

COVID-19 Voices of Inmates and Their Families

The Free Lance Star: What it's like to have a family member behind bars during a COVID-19 outbreak
Michelle Dempsey began emailing the Virginia Department of Corrections about her father, Louis, in October. “My father is 62 years old with serious health issues,” she wrote on Oct. 26, in the first of 25 emails to the VDOC. Michelle Dempsey’s concerns are similar to those felt by many family members of inmates as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. And a surge in cases that prompted a lockdown of the facility have only added to their fears.

COVID-19 and Public Defenders

Law 360: Public Defenders Speak Out About The Tolls Of COVID-19
For public defenders, the pandemic has exacerbated almost every aspect of their jobs' difficulty, with little recourse or recognition. In areas where in-person court operations haven't stopped despite a nationwide surge in cases, public defenders report slapdash safety protocols and crowded court hallways. Public defenders with paused trials say they feel like their hands are tied in a time when the release of an incarcerated client can mean the difference between life and death. Though attorneys' situations differ across state lines and the whims of the presiding judges, nearly all agree on what must change: Get people out of jail, and the rest can follow.

COVID-19 Lawsuits

The Washington Post: Coronavirus outbreak inside Maryland detention facility sparks class-action lawsuit
Advocates for detainees inside Maryland’s Chesapeake Detention Facility filed a federal lawsuit Saturday alleging that a host of unsanitary conditions fostered a coronavirus outbreak that affected 234 inmates and employees. The class-action lawsuit alleges among other things that guards in the pretrial facility of 400 detainees rarely wore masks and that healthy detainees were forced into contaminated cells that had not been sanitized. In one case, a woman who was new to the facility was kept in a cell flanked on both sides by cells that contained male detainees who had recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Medicaid Reentry Act

Wisconsin Examiner: Senate bill boosts addiction treatment, Medicaid coverage for prisoners before release
A bipartisan bill to be introduced Wednesday would allow prisoners to get addiction treatment covered by Medicaid starting 30 days before their release from jail or prison. The legislation is in part a response to continuing opioid and substance abuse, as well as to the added challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has produced in preventing and treating addiction and providing recovery.

Medicaid Expansion

The Topeka Capital Journal: Expanding Medicaid would enable treatment for mental health illness and ease burden on law enforcement
Members of the Kansas Commission on Racial Equity and Justice write: One of Kansas’ greatest needs is increased access to behavioral and mental health —especially in the criminal justice system. County jails and state prisons have become the largest providers of mental health services in the state, and community police departments have become de facto behavioral health providers, even though the majority of them are not trained in this area. Using law enforcement professionals as mental health providers and jails as treatment facilities is extraordinarily costly to the state and local government. It’s also ineffective and unsustainable. People with behavioral health conditions, including serious mental illness and substance use disorders, are three to six times more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system. Many law enforcement encounters are the result of substance use or mental health issues.

Nevada Current: Nevada one of few Medicaid expansion states to terminate inmate benefits
Senate Bill 93 would allow the state to suspend coverage and lift the suspension immediately upon an inmate’s release from jail or prison. A similar measure in 2019 died after passing out of committee. The Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy is a federal law that prohibits states from using Medicaid matching funds for incarcerated adults and juveniles, except those hospitalized off-site for more than 24 hours. Some states, primarily those that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, have adopted policies that suspend, rather than terminate coverage, resulting in quicker resumption of benefits for individuals released from custody. Nevada is not one of those states. In fact, it’s one of only five with expanded Medicaid coverage to terminate, rather than suspend benefits for the incarcerated.

ACA (Obamacare) and Reducing Recidivism

The News-Herald: How the Affordable Care Act can keep people out of prison
The expansion of Medicaid coverage under the ACA and its benefits can materialize only if former inmates have access to health services. Having access to Medicaid for former inmates led to a reduction of 30% and 24% for one-year and two-year violent recidivism rates, respectively. This relationship is the strongest among multiple reoffenders as well as older inmates, particularly those ages 45 to 54. There is also weak evidence of a decrease in recidivism rates on public-order crimes.

Racial Disparities and Bail

American Psychological Association: Get out of jail free? Achieving racial equity in pretrial reform
Approximately half a million people in the United States are in jail awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a current crime. Many of these individuals pose little threat to public safety and are likely to return to court for trial but are unable to post cash bond. Pretrial detention, which often occurs in dangerous, crowded, and unsanitary conditions, can have significant negative consequences including loss of employment and disruption of family and social relationships. This leads many individuals to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence or time served so that they can be released from custody. This burden is borne disproportionately by Black and Hispanic or Latinx persons, who are held in pretrial detention significantly longer than non-Hispanic White persons.

Debtors Prison

The New York Times: The New Debt Prisons
In an op-ed, Gene B. Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council, writes: The increasing use of excessive fees, fines, and surcharges to fund parts of our criminal justice system is creating punitive debt traps for millions of low-income Americans leaving prison. Many find themselves in an economic prison: prevented from paying down their debts by the debts themselves. Others are so entrapped that they are actually reincarcerated for unpaid debt. They are denied the dignity of a real second chance — and a fresh start to pursue one’s purpose and to contribute to family, community and country.

Correctional Cost

PEW Trust: Local Spending on Jails Tops $25 Billion in Latest Nationwide Data
Jail spending increased 13% between 2007 and 2017, even though 2 million fewer crimes were reported to law enforcement in 2017 than 10 years earlier. During that same span, jail admissions dropped 19%, from 13.1 million to 10.6 million, and the average daily jail population declined by 4%, or 27,500 people. Residents of some states with lower crime rates spent more of their local budgets on jails than those in states with higher crime rates. For example, Nevada and Missouri were at opposite ends of the spectrum in jail spending despite having similar crime rates, while in California and New Jersey, communities spent roughly the same share of their budgets, despite divergent state crime rates.

Citizen Times: Buncombe gets another $1.8M to reduce 'over-incarceration'; exceeds 15% jail reduction goal
Buncombe County government has been awarded a $1.8 million grant to cut its jail population, reduce violence and decrease racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The money is the latest installment from the MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge that has now given the county a total of $3.6 million since 2016, helping spur a 30% average monthly reduction in jail population for 23 months, Buncombe Justice Services Director Tiffany Iheanacho told the county Board of Commissioners Feb. 16.

Winter Storm and Jail Conditions in Texas

Forbes: Texas Women’s Prison Goes Without Heat Amid Freezing Temperatures
More than 1,000 women at federal medical prison FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, are without heat as Texas struggles to cope with power outages across the state due to unprecedented energy demand after temperatures dropped this week. Women in the prison told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that while the prison has electricity, heat has not been available for inmates since the storm hit over the weekend, and that temperatures inside the prison dropped to 51 degrees Tuesday.

Correctional Oversite

The Gainesville Sun: State prisons need better oversight
The editorial board for the Gainsville Sun write: The Florida Department of Corrections has long been shown that it needs independent oversight, with two recent examples further making the case. A federal report released in December found that FDC has failed to protect inmates at Florida’s largest women’s prison from sexual abuse by the staff there for more than a decade. The investigation also revealed a pattern in which prisoners who reported abuse faced retaliation. The same pattern has been shown in a continuing legal battle over the excessive use of solitary confinement in Florida prisons.

Mental Health Initiatives

Holland Sentinel: Whiteford co-sponsors bill to implement mental health screening standards in jails
A bill introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives would mandate mental health pre-screenings for inmates as they enter jails. House Bill 4254 would mandate mental health pre-screenings for every individual entering a jail overseen by the Michigan Department of Corrections. Currently, some jails and prisons have standards for mental health screenings upon inmate intake, but those standards vary across Michigan's 83 counties.

News Press: Inmates, jail staff benefit from onsite mental health clinician
Jen Gentry, the community liaison for Northwest Missouri with the Family Guidance Center, said the partnership with the local jail allows inmates to seek help for various reasons. The clinician also is able to perform crisis risk assessments and provide recommendations for treatment. Also an onsite clinician has helped bridge the gap for inmates who are transferred between mental-health facilities and the jail.

ICE, US Marshall Service, and Jails

The New York Review of Books: America’s Hidden Gulag
ICE and the US Marshall Service use space in many county jails to detain immigrants, people seeking asylum, and those in pre-trial custody on federal charges. Federal detention in county jails is an often-overlooked facet of mass incarceration in the US. During the past four decades, this relationship between federal agencies and county jails has encouraged jail expansion, and has, in many cases, rewarded anti-immigrant policy among sheriffs and county administrators.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

Yahoo! News: Lackawanna County settles two lawsuits against county prison
Lackawanna County recently agreed to settle two unrelated lawsuits filed against the county prison by the mother of a man who hanged himself in his cell and a man who alleged he was denied proper medical care. The county and prison agreed to pay $170,000 to Lisa Loughney in connection with the July 27, 2018, suicide of her son, Ryan Lynady. The county and prison also agreed to pay $75,000 to settle claims filed by Amir Whitehurst, who alleged he nearly died in June 2015 after prison staff and employees of its former medical provider, Correctional Care Inc., failed to respond to a serious medical issue he suffered.

Kare: Jail medical contract awarded based on misleading information
The owner of Minnesota’s largest jail health care provider failed to disclose his – and his company’s – troubled history when he applied for and won a multi-million dollar contract to provide medical care for inmates at the Anoka County jail, records show. A KARE 11 review of official contract records reveals that Dr. Todd Leonard and his company – MEnD Correctional Care – gave incomplete and misleading answers to specific questions spelled out in Anoka County’s bid documents. MEnD Correctional Care won the contract, worth more than $7 million, last fall even though records show it failed to make all of the required disclosures. The records reveal that MEnD failed to tell the county about its most costly lawsuit at the time. The family of a Stearns County inmate who died under the company’s care reached a $1.45 million settlement in 2015.

Lexington Herald Leader: A woman gave birth alone in a Kentucky jail cell. She gets a $200,000 settlement.
A woman who gave birth alone and without medical help in a Kentucky jail cell will receive $200,000 to settle a lawsuit. Kelsey Love, 32, charged in the lawsuit that staffers at the Franklin County Regional Jail were indifferent to her medical needs as she screamed in pain on the floor during her labor and delivery in May 2017. Love’s attorney argued it was obvious Love was in labor, and that the deputy jailer who called the nurse did not provide critical information, such as Love having contractions. The company that provided medical care to inmates under a contract with the jail, Chattanooga-based Southern Health Partners, also said the deputy did not give the nurse enough information.