COCHS Weekly Update: March 09, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The Harvard Independent: Of Harvard Bondage
The Harvard Prison Divestment Coalition (HPDC), a Harvard-based prison abolition group, claims that the University has multiple financial holdings in the prison industrial complex in addition to the one admittedly small and indirect investment in CoreCivic. Derek Walsh ’23, a representative of the organization, stated, “HPDC exists because students recognize the significant role that Harvard has played, since the founding in 1636 up until now, in slavery and now the Prison Industrial Complex.” The group’s primary goal is to advocate for divestment from “companies that directly feed into the Prison Industrial Complex and the incarceration of Black and brown individuals who are disproportionately represented in prisons.”

The Hill: Two-thirds of prisoners serving life sentences are people of color
More than two thirds of the roughly 203,000 prisoners serving life sentences in the United States are people of color, according to a new study citing official corrections data obtained last year from all states and the federal Bureau of Prisons. In states like Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, and Maryland, the study found that over two-thirds of those sentenced to life in prison are Black Americans, which account for 46 percent of those serving life sentences nationwide despite only accounting for around 13 percent of the U.S. population.

National Council For Behavioral Health: New Report: 40% of Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Organizations Will Survive Less than a Year Without Additional Financial Support
New “State of the Industry” data released by the National Council for Behavioral Health finds 40% of mental health and addiction treatment organizations surveyed will not be able to keep their doors open past the end of the year without additional federal relief. The data arrives amidst rising concerns about mental health, increases in overdoses and a surge in overdose death rates in communities across the country.

The Mercury News: After rampant COVID cases and mass vaccines, is California’s prison system nearing ‘herd immunity’?
A precipitous decline of coronavirus cases in state prisons has transformed California’s correctional system from a cautionary tale of mass incarceration in the time of a plague to something more unexpected: an intensely monitored field study that could help scientists develop strategies to defeat the pandemic outside prison walls. Vaccines distributed in the prisons combined with the lack of reinfections among inmates and staff previously diagnosed with COVID-19 appear to have quelled the explosive viral outbreaks that have rocked state prisons during the past year.

COVID-19 Vaccinations for Inmates

Axios: Most states aren't prioritizing prisons for COVID vaccines
Jails and prisons have seen big outbreaks and a higher death rate than the general public, but with supplies still limited, most governors aren't putting prisoners at the top of the list for vaccines. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis reversed the health department's plan to put incarcerated people ahead of elderly and those with chronic conditions, saying that the vaccine won't "go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven't committed any crime." In Oregon, a federal judge ruled that putting inmates further down the state's vaccination list violated their constitutional rights

Tennessean: Tennessee panel: Vaccinating inmates a 'PR nightmare,' despite high-risk status
A Tennessee advisory panel tasked with deciding in what order residents should receive the COVID-19 vaccine acknowledged that prison inmates in the state were high-risk, but concluded that prioritizing them for inoculation could be a "public relations nightmare." The result: Prisoners are in the last group scheduled for vaccines in the state, even though the Pandemic Vaccine Planning Stakeholder group concluded that "if untreated they will be a vector of general population transmission."

VT Digger: Covid outbreak at Newport prison is ‘a crisis,’ but no vaccine hurry-up planned
For months, according to interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker, he’s been lobbying to make Covid-19 vaccinations a priority for his department. But, at a press conference Thursday, he repeatedly stopped short of saying whether he’s called for all inmates in the state — including those held in the Newport prison hit by a large outbreak this week — to get the shot.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Marshall Project: A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons
By March 2, at least 386,765 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, about a 1 percent increase from the week before. New infections in prisons have dropped in recent months, from their highest peaks in mid-December to numbers not seen since October. The week of March 2, the number of deaths reported rose less than 1 percent from the previous week. COVID-19 has killed prisoners in most systems. Only one state—Vermont—has yet to report the death of a prisoner attributed to COVID-19.

VT Digger: ‘Like a hospital’: Newport prison outbreak surges to 137 cases
An outbreak at Newport’s Northern State Correctional Facility has surged to 137 cases, the Department of Corrections disclosed Tuesday evening. State officials first announced late last week that the prison had been placed on lockdown after 22 cases were detected during testing conducted on Feb. 23. Subsequent testing conducted between then and March 1 brought the total up to 127 positive cases among inmates and 10 cases among staff.

Star Advertiser: New coronavirus cases include cluster at Maui Correctional Center
Hawaii Department of Health officials Saturday reported one new coronavirus-related death and 87 new infections — including a cluster of cases at Maui Community Correctional Center. Approximately half of the Maui cases are part of a cluster at Maui Community Correctional Center, according to health officials.

COVID-19 Voices of Inmates and Their Families

The Maui News: Inmates’ families call for action as cases mount at jail
As 20 new COVID-19 cases were reported at Maui Community Correctional Center, family members and supporters held signs in front of the jail urging that more be done to stop the spread of the virus at the Wailuku facility. Family and supporters outlined a list of demands that includes proper isolation and quarantine of inmates who have or are suspected of having COVID-19, proper care for sick inmates, mask-wearing at all times, regular testing of staff and new masks every day for inmates or two cloth masks for wash and reuse.

COVID-19 Service Disruptions in Corrections

Messenger-Inquirer: Pandemic caused changes, disruptions for drug treatment programs, specialty courts
In Kentucky the pandemic has had an impact on drug treatment programs, and specialty courts like Drug Court and Mental Health Court, by forcing some programs to adopt virtual programs. Daviess County Jailer Art Maglinger reports that the pandemic caused the substance abuse program to shut down a few times. “I know there was a lot of frustration among the inmate population,” he said. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the jail have not been able to resume.

Standard-Examiner: Complications of pandemic postpone medical, mental health improvements in jails
A year ago, Weber County (UT) Jail officials were working on plans to improve mental health and medical services for inmates. Then COVID-19 hit, knocking some projects off track. In late 2019, Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon was talking about a major expansion of the medical unit, which is inadequate for modern demands. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office and the jail needed to grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks, which required numerous operational changes to try to limit virus exposure in an environment not amenable to social distancing.


Public Policy Institute of California: California’s Prison Population Drops Sharply, but Overcrowding Still Threatens Prisoner Health
The 23% population drop for California prisons stands out in a year when state prison populations plummeted across the nation. Of 29 states with easily accessible data for 2020, decreases ranged from 9% to 26%—a few hundred to many thousand inmates in each state. In total these states saw a reduction of 125,600 prisoners. California’s drop constituted 22% of that total. Texas had the next largest reduction, at 16% of the total, or 20,000 inmates. Illinois was third with 9,000 fewer inmates—or 7%—less than half of Texas and one-third of California.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

Rockingham Now: 'These incidents are tragic': Rockingham sheriff addresses three inmate suicides in a month
Suicides and overdoses in North Carolina jails are on the rise across the state. Disability Rights North Carolina has published several reports on jail deaths, and the upward trend in deaths clearly shows the need for a broad, sweeping response to this growing problem. Sheriff Sam Page said, “Jails have never been or will ever be the proper place to treat addiction, substance abuse, or mental illness". “Three suicides in one month is a crisis. The rate of these deaths is alarming, but unfortunately jail suicides are all too common,’’ said inmate rights advocate Luke Woollard.

Herald: Lawsuit blames Snohomish County for 2018 jail overdose death
An inmate's relative is suing Snohomish county in Washington State, saying the jail failed to protect Huffer from dangerous contraband and heed warning signs that she was suffering from lethal drug intoxication — even though corrections staff knew of her serious addiction and mental health problems. The case comes at a time when social justice activists in the county and beyond have called on governments to spend less on law enforcement and more on human service programs that address substance abuse, mental illness and other issues that underlie criminal behavior. The Sheriff’s Office called the jail “the largest de facto mental health facility in Snohomish County” in a memo to the County Council last June. “It is estimated that 60% of our inmates suffer from some form of mental illness requiring medications to control,” says the memo.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Corrections 1: How the Denver Sheriff Department is improving in-custody mental health services
In a podcast, Dr. Nikki Johnson discusses how the Denver Sheriff Department is improving in-custody mental health services. Dr. Johnson was hired in January 2021 to drive the strategy and performance of the mental health services provided within the Denver Sheriff Department, which is the largest provider of psychiatric services in Denver.

Drug Decriminalization

WUSF: Oregon Just Decriminalized Small Amounts of All Drugs. Now What?
In the November election, Oregon voters passed ballot Measure 110 that decriminalized small amounts of all drugs. In Oregon, as in the rest of the country, there’s racial disparity in who gets written up for drug possession. Before Measure 110, if you were Black or Native in Oregon, you were a lot more likely to get in trouble for possession of a controlled substance. Measure 110 requires the establishment of a statewide network of addiction recovery centers. The problem is these centers haven’t been established yet, and they don’t legally have to be until October.

Parole Reform

The Washington Post: I made a serious mistake as Maryland governor. We need parole reform.
In an op-ed, Parris N. Glendening, former governor of Maryland writes: At the start of my two terms as governor of Maryland, I announced that I would not grant parole to anyone with a life sentence, even though they were supposed to have a chance to earn it. I know now that my statement in 1995 that “life means life” was completely wrong. It meant that people whose sentences promised a chance at parole were denied it for decades, regardless of how thoroughly they worked to redeem themselves and make amends to those they harmed.

Racial Disparities and SUD

NPR: Drug Overdose Deaths Surge Among Black Americans During Pandemic
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say fatal drug overdoses nationwide have surged roughly 20% during the pandemic, killing more than 83,000 people in 2020. While the CDC doesn't track overdose deaths by race, a growing body of research suggests Black Americans have suffered the heaviest toll. "It wasn't until we started looking at the level of race and ethnicity that we realized Black and brown communities are being disproportionately affected," said Dr. Utsha Khatri, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

Racial Disparities and Incarceration

The Crime Report: How Mass Incarceration Fuels Cycle of Poverty
Black and Latinx New Yorkers, who make up the largest contingent of the formerly imprisoned population, bear the heaviest burden of economic losses. Closing the racial wealth gap requires additional emphasis on both diverting individuals from the justice system and expanding economic opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. The imbalance between the money spent on mass incarceration and funds for social services is stark. In 2019, between policing, jails, prisons, probation, and parole, New York State as a whole spent $18.2 billion on the carceral system, according to a new report by the Center for Community Alternatives. To put this into contrasting perspective, New York also spent just $6.2 billion that year on mental health services, public health, youth programs and services, recreation, and elder services.

The Mercury News: Wealthy California rehab doctor pays $100 a night for ’boutique’ jail stay as he awaits trial
For the accused who can afford it, there’s a kinder, gentler way: “pay-to-stay” lockups at Southern California’s smaller city jails, which some have called the “soft cell” or boutique incarceration option. Huntington Beach City Jail, which charges about $3,000 a month for accommodations. Surf City’s pay-to-stay inmates are housed separately from all other inmates and have minimal contact with them. Pay-to-stay is not new; it has sparked outrage and indignation for years. Defense lawyers currently tout more than 20 pay-to-stay jail programs in Southern California to their prospective clients, including in Glendale, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Fernando and Torrance in Los Angeles County, and Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana and Seal Beach in Orange County.

Abuse in Prisons

The New York Times: The ‘Hidden Punishment’ of Prison Food
Of the seemingly endless tally of injustices of mass incarceration, one of the worst humiliations gets little attention from outside: the food. This shadow issue — the 3,000 bologna sandwiches, mystery meats slathered on white bread, soy filler masquerading as chicken and other culinary indignities consumed during a prison sentence — permeates life behind bars and instills a nearly universal sense of disgust. Like everything about prisons, it disproportionately affects people of color, and it has grown worse during the pandemic. With most states spending $3 or less per person a day for meals, penitentiaries have become hidden food deserts, paralleling the neighborhoods from which many inmates have come.

Courthouse News: Judge Refuses to Impose Health Measures on Pest-Prone Jail Kitchen
Despite disturbing reports of pest invasions and contaminated food, a federal judge on Monday refused to impose stricter health and safety requirements on a county jail’s industrial kitchen. Inmates at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, reported finding cockroaches in sandwiches, rat feces on bread and razor shards in oatmeal, among other troubling testimony.

The Washington Post: Virginia is using dogs to ‘terrify and attack’ prisoners, say lawsuits that describe one man as mauled in his cell
Using dogs as weapons against prisoners has been prohibited by many states and even the U.S. military. Revised regulations from 2019 for the Military Working Dog Program state that canines “will not guard detainees, U.S. military prisoners, or dislocated civilians. Units will not use MWD teams to harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce detainees for interrogation purposes.” And yet, two recently filed lawsuits and numerous letters from inmates sent to a human rights organization describe Virginia’s maximum-security prisons as regularly using “unmuzzled canines to terrify and attack prisoners.”

The Fresno Bee: Has this Central Valley sheriff been ‘cruel’ to inmates over COVID-19? ACLU says yes
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux has been accused by the ACLU of instituting “cruel” COVID-19 policies that have caused “physical and psychological harm” to county jail inmates, new court documents show. The complaint accused the sheriff of failing to implement state-mandated health protocols to protect inmates across the county’s five facilities, which resulted in a court-ordered mandatory mask policy and increased distance between inmates. The attorneys representing the inmates said a “solitary-like” confinement policy, where inmates were locked in their cells for more than 23 hours a day, violated their “constitutional rights to due process and freedom” and irreparably harmed their mental health.

Correctional Health Care Providers

State of Reform: Deprivatization — not continual fines — is the solution to health care incompetency in Arizona prisons
In 2018, Arizona’s private prison health care contractor Centurion received $1.4 million in additional funding from the state to improve inmate health care. By 2020, that number had risen to $30 million. Yet just last week, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) was fined — for the second time in three years — for refusing to comply with agreed-upon standards of health care for its inmates.

Kearney Hub: Inmate with syphilis and HIV sues Douglas County saying jail's medical provider wouldn't test him
A series of 15 filed by inmates against Douglas County (NE) and its Nashville-based medical contractor, Wellpath, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions. Among the lawsuits, an inmate said he suffered a broken hip after an altercation at the jail but was told that he wouldn’t be treated unless the bone was sticking out of his skin. Another inmate alleged that he suffered from intense pain from an STD and told jail officials and medical personnel that he needed an STD test. It wasn’t until six months later — when he was transferred to the state prison system — that he got a test and found out that he had chlamydia.