COCHS Weekly Update: March 02, 2021

Highlighted Stories

North Carolina Health News: From plantation to prison: how oppression led to high rates of disease, death for Black North Carolinians
In North Carolina, the relationship between slavery and incarceration is clear and direct. Even with the end of slavery in the late-1800s, many Southern states retained economies based on labor-intensive agricultural products. As in many states, North Carolina turned to incarcerated populations to fill that gap. Centuries of this oppression have contributed to some of the chronic health problems within the African American community.

The Lancet Public Health: Association between county jail incarceration and cause-specific county mortality in the USA, 1987–2017: a retrospective, longitudinal study
Increases in a county's jail incarceration rate are associated with upticks in premature deaths caused by issues like infectious disease, substance use and suicide among a county's broader population, according to a new study. Jail incarceration can be harmful not only to the health of individuals who are incarcerated, but also to public health more broadly. The findings suggest important points of intervention, including disinvestment from carceral systems and investment in social and public health services, such as community-based treatment of substance-use disorders.

The Hill: Illinois ends cash bail as part of criminal justice reforms
Illinois has become the first state to completely eliminate cash bail, a result of a push by state legislators to end a practice they say keeps poor people in jail for months awaiting trial and disproportionately affects Black and Latino defendants. The cash bail system will not be abolished until January 2023, giving court officials time to prepare for the new system, said State Senator Elgie Sims, one of the authors of the legislation.

The New York Times: Vulnerable Inmates Left in Prison as Covid Rages
The coronavirus has infected more than 620,000 inmates and correctional officers in the nation’s prisons, jails and detention centers, according to a New York Times database. Nearly 2,800 inmates and guards have died, making correctional facilities among the most significant battlefronts of the pandemic, along with nursing homes and schools. Yet just 7,850 of the 151,735 people serving federal sentences right now have been granted home confinement — about 5 percent.

COVID-19 Transmission

US News and World Report: Lessons From a Prison Where COVID-19 ‘Spread Like Wildfire'
Almost a year later, 94% of Avenal's incarcerated men have contracted COVID-19 and eight have died. With more than 3,600 confirmed cases among prisoners and staff members, the facility tops the list of the country's largest COVID-19 clusters. The virus continues to devastate prison populations and employees. Despite a dramatic drop in new infections since the holidays, more than 15,000 inmates nationwide have contracted the virus in the past three weeks. "There has not been the political will to do what's necessary to keep people safe, which is to dramatically reduce prison and jail populations," said Aaron Littman, a teaching fellow at UCLA School of Law and deputy director of the COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project.

Baltimore Sun: Maryland inmate tests positive for UK variant of COVID-19, Department of Corrections says
A Maryland inmate living in the Maryland Correctional Institution of Jessup tested positive for the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 last week, according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. This is the first inmate in the state known to test positive for the variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020. The variants, which include a Brazil strain known as P.1 and the South African variant B.1.351, are more contagious than the original strain of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

East Bay Times: COVID vaccinations to expand for jailed, unhoused people in Santa Clara County
People who are in county jails or unhoused in the Bay Area will be getting more access to COVID-19 vaccines in the coming days and weeks, as public health officials answer long-awaited calls to protect two populations they recognize have profound disadvantages in following physical distancing and hygiene directives. HomeFirst CEO Andrea Urton said she has been waiting anxiously for her shelters to get access to the vaccine, and was “thrilled” by the news that the county will begin vaccinating homeless residents.

Los Angeles Times: 40% of inmates in California’s corrections system have been vaccinated for COVID-19
About 40% of people in the custody of California’s corrections system have received the COVID-19 vaccine, a figure praised by prison advocates who say that only a fraction of the state’s vaccine supply is needed to protect a population that’s among the most vulnerable to the virus. The vaccinations began Dec. 22 at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, according to California Correctional Health Care Services.

COVID-19 Safety Violations

Crains Detroit Business: Hospital, prison among employers cited for COVID-19 health violations
The Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian was fined $6,300 after it was found to have not developed an adequate infectious disease preparedness and response plan. The prison, the inspection found, also failed to identify all close contacts for employees who had received a positive COVID-19 test. The prison, inspected following a COVID-related death, also failed to apply social distancing strategies for employees on lunch breaks, not taking adequate measures to assure employees wore facial coverings and practiced social distancing and not adopting protocols to clean and disinfect the facility in the event of a positive COVID test.

Cronkite News: Arizona Department of Corrections fined $1.1 million for neglecting health care benchmarks
For the second time since 2019, the Arizona Department of Corrections has been found in contempt for its failure to follow health care guidelines designed to protect prisoners. In a ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver fined the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation & Reentry $1.1 million for neglecting health care guidelines the department agreed to follow in 2015. The fine is to be paid this month.

COVID-19 Voices of Inmates and Their Families

FR24 News: Families of prisoners with COVID-19 say they are left in the dark
By the time Santos Ruiz heard from the prison doctor last July, his father had been in St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco for two weeks and on a ventilator. “We don’t think he will be successful,” he recalls. It was the first time Ruiz had heard that his father, a 61-year-old inmate at San Quentin State Prison, even had the virus. As the pandemic ravaged California prisons, some families say authorities failed to notify them when loved ones were hospitalized with the virus. State law requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to use “all reasonable means” to notify an inmate’s designated contacts of death, serious illness, or serious injury. The law does not say when exactly the prison should alert families.

COVID-19 Resources for Corrections

CDC: List of COVID-19 Resources for Correctional and Detention Facilities
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has posted resources for correctional institutions that include information about prevention, testing, and sanitation, as well as information about specific facilities, and advice to incarcerated individuals concerning COVID-19.

State Initiatives and Correctional Reform

The New York Times: Criminal Justice Is a State Issue
In his opinion column, Charles Blow writes: The true frontier of criminal justice equality is on the state level. States have the power to write their own criminal codes. Those codes are riddled with racial biases, often intentional. But too many have done too little to change those laws and right the wrongs. If the criminal justice system is to move toward racial equality and liberation, this change will have to start with the states.

Kare 11: Sweeping reforms proposed to protect jail inmates
The Minnesota legislature will consider sweeping reforms meant to provide better protections and medical care to Minnesota’s jail inmates that could prevent deaths. Investigations have revealed lax oversight at the state’s jails despite dozens of deaths since 2015. Many of those cases saw inmates suffering needlessly after being denied basic medical care before they died. The Department of Corrections wants more authority to investigate jails and take swifter action should problems be found, including the ability to more quickly suspend and revoke a license.

Alive: 'Something needed to be done': Ga. lawmaker files bill in response to man who died begging for help in county jail
A Georgia state lawmaker filed proposed legislation on Friday he believes could add more accountability and trust in Georgia’s detention system. The bill titled, the “Inmate Mental Health Act,” is authored by Representative David Wilkerson. If passed, it would mandate the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate all future jail deaths. Currently, county sheriffs, who operate those jails, can investigate themselves. Last year a video of the 37-year-old father of three having a medical emergency repeatedly begging to be sent to the hospital for nearly eight hours, while struggling to breathe. The jail nurse refused to check his vitals or send him to the hospital. Wingo later died in a padded room from a perforated ulcer.

State of Reform: ‘Opioid Overdose Reduction Act’ would give protections to overdose patients
A bill filed in Illinois would assure that a person seeking medical assistance for an opioid overdose will not be criminally charged or prosecuted. Those suffering an overdose will also be able to avoid charges for possession of the illicit drug if they make a good faith effort to seek treatment. The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act, HB 3445, was filed by Rep. Janet Yang Rohr on Friday. Provisions in the bill also assure that those on parole would not have their status revoked in case of a drug overdose.

Mental Health Initiatives

Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45): Rep. Porter Reintroduces Bill to Reduce Violence Against Individuals with Mental Illness and Disabilities
Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), and Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), today reintroduced legislation to reduce violence against individuals with mental illness and disabilities. The Mental Health Justice Act would make it easier for state and local governments to send trained mental health professionals instead of police when 911 is called because an individual is experiencing a mental health crisis. The Treatment Advocacy Center estimates that 1 in 4 fatal police encounters involve someone with a severe mental illness, making the risk of death 16 times greater for these individuals than for others approached or stopped by law enforcement. Those who are arrested are often charged with minor, nonviolent offenses. As a result, jail and prison systems are overcrowded with thousands of individuals who would be far better served by other community resources. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and Cory Booker (NJ).

Los Angeles Times: Treating mentally ill accused felons will save money and prevent new crimes
The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times writes: The Los Angeles County jail is filled with hundreds of inmates accused of crimes but too mentally ill to understand the charges against them or assist in their own defense. Being incompetent to stand trial, they burn through county taxpayers’ money as they wait in jail. In recent years the county developed a better way with its Office of Diversion and Reentry, more widely known as ODR. The office operates a program that moves people accused of misdemeanors — and some accused of felonies — from jail to community clinics for treatment until they are ready for court, and at a fraction of the cost of keeping them in jail. Now the state is looking for a handful of counties willing to divert not just some but all of their accused felons who are incompetent to stand trial. Yet some in county government are now dragging their feet on the application to participate in the state program, known as the Community Care Demonstration Project.

LAist: LA Makes (Slow) Progress On Getting Police Out Of The Mental Health Business
The mass movement for police reform that exploded in the wake of the killing of George Floyd also led to a renewed push to re-think our reliance on law enforcement to handle thousands of mental health crisis calls every year. The numbers make the case: People with untreated serious mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the cops than other civilians, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. And 25% of people shot at by the LAPD from 2015-19 were perceived to have a mental illness. Since last summer, we've seen a flurry of initiatives in the city and county of Los Angeles aimed at alternatives to crisis response. But several months in, where do they stand?

MAT in Corrections

Public New Service: Since last summer, we've seen a flurry of initiatives in the city and county of Los Angeles aimed at alternatives to crisis response. But several months in, where do they stand?
The Maine Department of Corrections is expanding its program for medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction to any person in jail or prison who medically qualifies. In 2019, the department launched a pilot program with 100 participants, and has been slowly phasing it into more facilities. Research has shown that medication-assisted treatment can reduce cravings, which allows people to engage in counseling and treatment more effectively. Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said they expect to treat up to 600 people once the program is fully implemented.

Chicago Tribune: Woman who sued DuPage County sheriff to receive methadone treatment in jail loses court fight but could still get her meds
Christine Finnigan, 53, has been on methadone for two years to treat her opioid use disorder. Prior to her recovery, in 2016, she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol, an offense that was only recently resolved with a guilty plea and a sentence of 30 days in the DuPage County Jail. She said she sought the assurance of DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick that she could continue to receive her daily dose of methadone while behind bars. She didn’t receive it — a spokesman for Mendrick said the sheriff never saw the letter making the request — and sued with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming the jail would inflict a cruel and unusual punishment and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Private Prisons and Correctional Health Care Providers

Idaho State Journal: Idaho inmate sues prison health care provider Corizon over amputation
A man incarcerated at the Idaho State Correctional Center last week sued the Idaho Department of Correction’s registered medical provider Corizon Health alleging staff failed to treat an infection that resulted in the loss of his leg. Corizon has faced lawsuits and fines in a variety of states. The Idaho Press reported in 2018 that more than 100 inmates sued the Idaho Department of Correction and Corizon, alleging that staff left them untreated for hepatitis C, a viral disease that degrades the liver’s ability to purify blood, and that their symptoms worsened. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan in June 2018 issued a $1.4 million fine to the Arizona Department of Corrections, which at the time contracted Corizon Health to provide medical care, over inadequate responses to patients’ medical requests and health care grievances.

The Motley Fool: Why CoreCivic Stock Tanked as Much as 13% Today
The specific news that caused investors to push CoreCivic's stock lower was that it entered into a 90-day extension with the U.S. Marshals Service for its 2,016-bed Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. After the 90-day extension is up, however, CoreCivic does not expect further renewals of the contract. The Marshals Service currently houses roughly 800 federal detainees at the facility. The facility also houses inmates for the state of Ohio. The bigger issue here is that the Biden administration has told the Department of Justice to stop working with privately operated criminal detention facilities. CoreCivic's role in the prison space has always been subject to politics, and now the political winds are blowing against its basic business model.

KWWL: 28 inmates injured after power outage hits Indianapolis jail
Officials say nearly 30 inmates were injured in falls or fights after a power outage plunged a privately operated jail in Indianapolis into darkness and a backup generator failed to kick on. The sheriff’s office says Marion County Jail II, operated by private contractor CoreCivic, experienced a power outage and simultaneous back-up generator failure. CoreCivic says 28 inmates were treated for injuries — 11 transported to a hospital and 17 treated by jail medical staff.