COCHS Weekly Update: March 16, 2021

Highlighted Stories

Marshall Project: Many Juvenile Jails Are Now Almost Entirely Filled With Young People of Color
White youths were being released from juvenile detention centers at a far higher rate than their Black peers during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and young people of color have since been detained for longer than they were before the crisis, according to data gathered by a leading children’s philanthropy. Though the racial inequality in youth detention has long been vast, it’s wider than ever, experts say. By May 2020, detention centers were releasing White youths at a 17% higher rate than Black youths, according to a monthly survey of juvenile justice agencies in more than 30 states.

Juvenile Justice: Restorative Justice Is Used to Legitimize Oppressive Systems
In an op-ed, Sia Henry, a senior program specialist with Impact Justice’s Restorative Justice Project, writes: There is a danger in restorative justice being used as a way to stabilize, if not legitimize, traditionally racist and toxic systems. For instance, local and state governments have spent public resources on lengthy studies to tell them what they and we already know: Our schools and criminal legal systems have been insidious, violent and traumatizing spaces, especially for Black and Indigenous people, throughout the history of this country.

The New York Times: ‘A Ticking Time Bomb’: City Jails Are Crowded Again, Stoking Covid Fears
New York City’s jails were under such threat from the coronavirus last spring that city officials moved swiftly to let hundreds of people out of the crowded, airless old buildings. A year later, jails are more crowded than they were when the pandemic began. And there has been an increase in infections in recent months that could pose a public health risk even beyond the jail walls. There are now more than 5,500 people in the city’s jails, slightly more than were detained last March. About three-quarters of the people being held have not been convicted.

ABC News: US prison guards refusing vaccine despite COVID-19 outbreaks
A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group: “Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?” The answer from more than half: “Hell no.” Only 40 of the 475 respondents said yes. In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunized. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

The Washington Post: A border community, ICE at odds over release of detainees with covid
In a border area that has suffered from ongoing covid-19 outbreaks, advocates for immigrants and ICE are at odds over the agency’s treatment of infected detainees. Advocates and county officials say they had no idea ICE was dropping detainees with covid off at the bus stop, while ICE says it is the agency’s protocol to notify local authorities ahead of time.

The City: How the City Failed Three Men Who Died of COVID-19 in Jail: Watchdog
A disregard of social distancing protocols. A failure to distribute masks, forcing detainees to use sheets and pillowcases to protect themselves. And a denial of basic medical treatment — including a CPAP machine taken away. Those are some of the findings of the city’s jail watchdog in its probe into the deaths of three detainees in local lockups during the peak of the pandemic last spring. In some cases, the inmates’ lawyers were not notified about how dire the situation was becoming behind bars, the review concluded. Lawyers also had difficulty obtaining medical records that could have been used to help make their clients’ cases for early releases, according to the report.

89.3 WFPL: Prisoners And The Pandemic: A Year Into COVID, Crowded Jails Fuel Infections In Ohio Valley
Crowded jails are a common problem in the Ohio Valley, largely fueled by arrests related to the region’s addiction crisis. For example, the Warren County facility has 562 beds. At one point last year, 760 inmates were in the facility. In Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia more than 15,000 state and federal inmates have tested positive for coronavirus and COVID-19 has claimed more than 200 lives among prisoners and staff in the three states.

COVID-19 Preventive Release

VT Digger: Attorney seeks inmates’ release as Covid cases rise in Newport prison
A Vermont defense attorney has filed emergency motions seeking the release of two clients held at the Northern State Correctional Facility, the site of the state’s largest-yet Covid-19 prison outbreak. The attorney, David Sleigh, cited the words of interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker, who in a press release last week said the facility was “being treated as a hospital.” The Department of Corrections announced that six more inmates and two more staff at the Newport prison tested positive for the virus.

VT Digger: Judge denies request to release inmates from Newport prison amid Covid outbreak
Vermont judge has rejected a bid by eight men held in pretrial detention to be released from a Newport prison beset by an outbreak of Covid-19. Orleans County Judge Gregory Rainville’s six-page decision, issued Friday afternoon, came after a hearing earlier this week, where attorneys for the eight men cited concern over the risk of infection at Northern State Correctional Facility, the state’s largest prison. At least 145 inmates at the Newport facility have tested positive for the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

The San Diego Union Tribune: ACLU sues San Diego County jails to get inmates vaccinated
A lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Diego Superior Court asks a judge to require Sheriff Bill Gore to either vaccinate a sufficient number of people in his jails to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks or reduce the inmate population to a level that allows for adequate social distancing “at all times.” The filing comes less than 24 hours after the Sheriff’s Department announced that at least 46 people incarcerated at the George Bailey Detention Facility, the county’s largest jail, had tested positive for the virus.

The Huffington Post: New York’s Incarcerated Need The Vaccine. Cuomo Isn’t Giving It To Them.
Fresh on the heels of a scandal over his handling of nursing home deaths, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now under mounting public pressure to protect incarcerated people. Public health experts and criminal justice advocates say the governor’s vaccine rollout has put inmates and staff in danger, violates his pledge to ensure fairness in the distribution of the doses, and exacerbates racial disparities. A handful of legal aid groups are currently suing Cuomo and the state health commissioner, Howard Zucker, for refusing to vaccinate incarcerated people.

Tampa Bay Times: As COVID-19 spreads fast in Florida prisons, no vaccines have been given to its inmates
Three months into Florida’s vaccination efforts, Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to make vaccines available to state prisons, even as corrections officials have requested doses and identified thousands of elderly inmates who meet the state’s eligibility requirements. “The department is ready and willing to administer, but they have not received any supply,” Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Jason Pizzo. By comparison, nearly 1,200 inmates housed in federal detention facilities in Florida have been fully inoculated, meaning they have received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons data.

Colorado Public Radio: A Contagious COVID Variant Detected At The Buena Vista Prison Means Inmates Will Get Vaccinated Early
Chaffee County health officials will start vaccinating all prisoners at the Buena Vista Correctional Facility after the South African variant was detected in a handful of COVID-19 cases inside the prison. This is a departure from Gov. Jared Polis’ initial vaccine plan to not prioritize prisoners in vaccine distribution. Despite a lawsuit and pressure from advocacy groups nationwide, Polis has maintained that prisoners should be treated like everyone else in Colorado and become eligible according to their age and medical conditions.

Fresh Water: A matter of trust: Inside prison COVID-19 hot spots, many inmates fear the vaccine
Many of the country’s deadliest outbreaks have been in prisons and jails, where social distancing is often impossible and health is generally poor. At least 134 Ohio prison inmates have died of the coronavirus, and more than 7,000 have been infected. Experts and advocates have called for aggressive and early vaccination campaigns in prisons. But many prisoners distrust prison medical staff, putting the drive for vaccinations in jeopardy.

Hepatitis C

North Carolina Health News: NC prisons must test and treat inmates for hepatitis C under class-action settlement
Inmates in North Carolina prisons will now receive testing and treatment for hepatitis C, as well as education about how the virus spreads, according to a federal class-action lawsuit settlement on Monday. In 2018, three state inmates sued the Department of Public Safety saying they were denied treatment for their hepatitis C virus because they weren’t sick enough to receive medication under the prison system’s former criteria. The Department of Public Safety agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit last year, and those within the “class” — inmates within the state prison system — were notified and given a chance to respond, according to ACLU of NC senior staff attorney Em Seawell.

Mental Health and Solitary Confinement

Daily News: NYC jails gear up to end use of solitary confinement: officials
New York City jails could soon see the end solitary confinement with new rules that seek to virtually eliminate the controversial practice. Inmates will get a minimum of 10 hours outside their cells — an increase of six hours — with five hours of daily programming, according to rules proposed by the city’s Board of Correction. Those in solitary will also follow individualized behavioral support plans, and work with case managers to help better cope while behind bars.

The Crime Report: Are Prisoners with Mental Illness Targeted for Solitary Confinement?
A new study by researchers at Florida State University (FSU) examining the issue of whether incarcerated people with mental illness are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement found that having a mental illness was associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of being placed in extended solitary confinement. The study found that prisoners with mental illness were up to 170 percent more likely to be placed for extended periods of time in solitary, depending on their diagnosis. This increased risk is higher than identified by previous research.

Mental Health and Jail Expansion

Rome News-Tribune: Jail mental health unit to provide services, treatment to help keep people out of jail
The second phase of the Floyd County (GA) Jail medical and mental health project is focusing on recidivism and providing treatment to those with mental illness and addiction. About 60 beds will make up the new mental health unit at the jail, funded by 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax. Along with the beds, which will be used to house severely mentally ill inmates and inmates coming down from drugs, there will be a large meeting area where they plan to conduct classes with several mental health and addiction organizations. There will be no more delays on New Orleans jail expansion for mentally ill inmates, judges warn
Two frustrated federal judges said Monday they will have “zero tolerance” for further delays from New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell's office on building a jail expansion for inmates with mental and medical health problems. Cantrell’s lawyers have fought an ongoing, nine-month legal battle to pause construction on the $51 million, 89-bed facility, which has drawn heated opposition from community groups.

FOX 40: Sacramento County Board of Supervisors vote to deny Main Jail expansion project
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has voted not to move forward with expanding the Sacramento County Main Jail. The vote was for a $10 million contract with Kitchell/CEM, Inc. to build a separate facility to expand and provide “correctional health and mental health services” as mandated by HIPAA, according to background information on the meeting agenda item. It was not intended to increase bed capacity.

Legislation and Criminal Justice Reform

Times Union: Technical parole violations cost state at least $683m as offenders locked up
New York imprisons more people for technical parole violations than any other state, and at a rate almost three times higher than the national average. Two years ago, more than 7,200 people were re-incarcerated for rule violations. The re-incarceration of those individuals cost taxpayers at least $683 million, the report estimates. Advocates, academics and lawmakers have proposed reforms to the status quo of technical parole violations in New York: a bill known as the Less is More Act, which is sponsored by Sen. Brian Benjamin, who represents Harlem and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Oklahoma News 4: Medical parole reform bill approved by Oklahoma Senate
The Oklahoma State Senate approved a measure Wednesday to reform criteria by which prison inmates apply for medical parole. Senate Bill 320 , written by Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, allows inmates who are medically frail and vulnerable to be considered for medical parole proceedings, also known as compassionate release, according to a State Senate news release. Medically frail is defined in the bill as someone who has a medical condition that prevents them from independently performing two or more activities of daily living.

Orlando Sentinel: Lawmakers propose sentencing reforms as state prisons near crisis. Will any pass?
A group of bipartisan Florida lawmakers are hoping a flurry of targeted sentencing- and rehabilitation-focused reforms could begin to reduce the state’s massive prison population, relieving some pressure on the corrections department that its own leadership has repeatedly described as close to a crisis point. The criminal justice reform bills, which sponsors say make sense both morally and fiscally, would create new options to release elderly and sick inmates, increase incentives for prisoners to complete educational and other self-improvement programs and provide opportunities to retroactively reconsider and change some long sentences.

Telemedicine in Corrections

Citizen Times: North Carolina must continue supporting telemedicine in our state prison system
In an op-ed, medical professionals, Victor Agbafe, Jesper Ke and Kameron Leigh Matthews, write: There are many potential options for bolstering healthcare provided in jails and prisons, telemedicine is a highly effective option. Telemedicine provides healthcare via remote technology to patients, such as through video appointments. Telemedicine has already proven to be effective in improving healthcare access in rural communities outside of prisons. It is an effective tool that can help alleviate the burden on our state’s prison health system by allowing more healthcare providers to reach these patients. This is because in North Carolina, rural communities have a shortage of healthcare workers and resources relative to their urban counterparts.

Correctional Health Care Providers and Private Prisons

Maine Public: 'It's Horrible' — Report Alleges Improper Care By Private Health Provider In Maine State Prison
Members of the NAACP’s Maine State Prison chapter are raising allegations of inadequate prison health care services. In a report that details the stories of anonymous residents, they allege that heart conditions, infections, diabetes and other serious conditions are being neglected or misdiagnosed by prison health care provider, Wellpath LLC.

Vote Immigration: CoreCivic Must Face Lawsuit Over Unsafe Conditions
A San Diego judge ruled on Wednesday that private prison operator CoreCivic will have to face the bulk of a lawsuit brought by a former employee, finding that the conditions inside a detention facility could support her claim for constructive termination. Her April 2020 lawsuit alleged that the company did not implement social distancing, prohibited employees from wearing masks and crowded hundreds of detainees together in the same room. CoreCivic moved to dismiss her lawsuit, countering primarily that her wrongful constructive termination claims were not related to a specific public policy imperative. Judge Lorenz disagreed, writing that a failure to provide a safe working environment would indeed contravene public policy and provide the basis for a constructive dismissal claim.

San Francisco Chronicle: Arizona to ask ex-contractor for reimbursement for $1M fine
Arizona plans to ask a company that previously provided health care to its prisoners for reimbursement of a $1.1 million contempt of court fine that the state just paid for failing to comply with a legal settlement requiring improvements to inmate care. Such a request would mark the second time the state has tried to pass along the financial burden for a contempt fine for noncompliance with the 6-year-old settlement to Corizon Health Inc., the state’s prison health care contractor for five years until another company took over in mid-2019.