COCHS Weekly Update: March 30, 2021

Highlighted Stories

COCHS: Launches Nationwide CEO Search
COCHS is announcing that it will begin a nationwide CEO search, as current CEO Vikki Wachino steps out of the CEO role to serve as COCHS senior advisor. Dan Mistak will serve as acting president, and Tracie Gardner will lead the nationwide search. Tracie is a nationally recognized advocate for reforming the criminal justice system, particularly in addressing racial disparities.

The New York Times: New York Must Offer Vaccine to All Prisoners Immediately, Judge Rules
New York must immediately begin to offer Covid vaccines to all incarcerated people in the state’s prisons and jails, a judge ruled on Monday, making the state one of few in the nation to provide doses to such a broad population behind bars. The order, the first involving any of the country’s largest correctional systems, comes as the coronavirus continues to roar through facilities in New York. Justice Alison Y. Tuitt of State Supreme Court in the Bronx wrote in her ruling on Monday afternoon that people in prisons and jails had been arbitrarily left out of the rollout and that doing so was “unfair and unjust” and an “abuse of discretion.”

Vera: What Jails Cost
Local governments spend $25 billion annually to operate more than 3,000 jails nationwide. There are more than 10 million bookings into jail each year, usually for crimes related to poverty, mental illness, and substance use. The cost and reach of jails are staggering—and do not make communities safer, healthier, or more resilient. To see if spending on jails has changed in line with local incarceration numbers, Vera examined the county jails in 48 large cities.

The Hill: The US Department of Agriculture should not be funding rural jails
In 1862, President Lincoln established the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which he described to Congress as “the people’s department, in which they feel more directly concerned than in any other.” However, a strange development stands at odds with these lofty goals and counter to the agency’s history as a “people’s department.” Over the past 25 years, the USDA has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars meant for “essential community infrastructure” financing bigger jails in the nation’s smallest communities.

The Atlantic: America’s Rural-Jail-Death Problem
Across the country, an average of roughly three people died each day in local jails of all sizes in 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS—a rate that is almost certainly an underestimate. A disproportionate number of those deaths happen in America’s smallest jails. Mortality rates were highest in jails holding a daily average of fewer than 50 people between 2000 and 2012, the last period for which BJS reported mortality by jail size; suicide rates were inversely correlated with jail size from 2000 to 2007.

COVID-19 Impacting Corrections and Policing

Maryland's State Attorney General's Office: Press Release
State’s Attorney Mosby announced the one-year success of the Covid Criminal Justice policies alongside the Mayor’s Office on Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) and partners from Baltimore Crisis Response Inc., Johns Hopkins University, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other stakeholders. The policies enacted over the past year have resulted in a decrease in arrests, no adverse impact on the crime rate, and address the systemic inequity of mass incarceration. Therefore, the State’s Attorney also announced today the permanent adoption of these policies as we continue to prioritize the prosecution of public safety crimes over low-level, non-violent offenses.

The Crime Report: Pandemic Continues to Disrupt Incarceration and Policing
While governments have struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19 in carceral facilities, law enforcement officers on the beat have also had to change how they police communities, illustrating how the pandemic has impacted nearly every facet of the justice system. The pandemic has influenced how law enforcement officers tackle a rise in crime cases, while also impacting how they can interact with their communities. One of the biggest impacts that the pandemic has had on policing is that officers have been making fewer arrests for misdemeanors. Instead, they issue citations to keep jail populations down.

COVID-19 Transmission in Corrections

NYU: Fighting COVID Behind Bars
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 492,000 documented cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff in U.S. prisons, jails, and detention centers, according to the COVID Prison Project—nearly as many cases as in the entire state of Minnesota—and more than 2,500 deaths due to the coronavirus. As high as they are, these numbers, according to Homer Venters, an adjunct clinical associate professor at NYU School of Global Public Health, are likely an undercount of infections in settings where crowding makes it easy for the virus to spread, and inadequate health care leaves populations especially vulnerable.

Knock LA: Living and Working at Twin Towers Correctional Facility During COVID-19
No fresh air. No soap or water. No room to social distance, no proper PPE, and no real enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols. This is the reality incarcerated patients face during COVID-19 at the nation’s largest mental health facility: The Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles County. When COVID-19 swept through the country in early 2020, human rights advocates rang every alarm to warn the most densely populated jail system in the country what was at stake if Los Angeles County did not take drastic steps to mitigate the crisis of a deadly virus within overcrowded jails. Not only were those drastic steps not taken, but the search to find out who is responsible for bottom-lining the conditions of the jail are like wading through a pile of “we’re doing the best we can” style bureaucratic muck.

The Seattle Times: COVID-19 outbreak in Seattle’s King County Jail sends 46 into medical isolation; 7 jail employees also test positive
A significant coronavirus outbreak is occurring inside the King County Jail, with 19 cases detected. The outbreak accounts for most of the 46 total cases among the in-custody population at the downtown Seattle facility and inside the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent as of Wednesday, according to the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. Additionally, seven department employees — all of them assigned to the jail in downtown Seattle — have tested positive.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

The Palm Beach Post: DeSantis should prioritize COVID vaccinations for Florida prison guards, inmates
The editorial board of the Palm Beach Post writes: As of mid-March, roughly 18,000 of Florida’s 90,000-plus inmates have tested positive in state prisons. So have 5,000 state correctional officers and support staff. The virus continues to wreak havoc throughout the county jails in the state. Unfortunately, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the Florida Legislature continue to have their heads firmly in the sand on issues concerning the state’s correctional institutions. Although more federal aid and vaccines are coming available to fight the virus, state law bars the Florida Department of Corrections from releasing more inmates to curb the spread of the virus.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting: West Virginia Excels In Vaccine Rollout, But Still Overlooks Prison and Jail Inmates
State health and corrections agencies have yet to vaccinate inmates in West Virginia’s jails and prisons, and there is no definitive plan to do so. There is no start date set to give COVID-19 vaccines to state inmates, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Lawrence Messina stated today. Two groups that advocate for the rights of incarcerated people have taken notice, and are ready to pursue legal action. The West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Mountain State Justice say that if state officials do not release a plan by the end of the month that says how and when incarcerated people will be vaccinated, both groups are prepared to file suit.

KCUR: In About-Face, Missouri Places Prison Inmates In Final COVID-19 Vaccination Group
When Missouri officials initially introduced their COVID-19 vaccination plans last year, they announced that prison inmates would get priority because they are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection. But in the latest version of the state's vaccination plan, the health department has placed prison inmates among the last to be vaccinated. Health care advocates say that prison inmates, who have experienced high rates of COVID-19, will continue to suffer disproportionately unless they're given priority access to the vaccines.

St Louis Post Dispatch: Inmates’ distrust of prison health care fuels distrust of COVID vaccines
States cannot mandate that inmates take the vaccines. But Missouri officials have tried to encourage them by distributing safety information about it, including a video debunking myths featuring. But persuasion is proving difficult at Western Missouri, given inmates’ longtime distrust of prison management. Also fueling skepticism of prison health care, inmates said, is the failure of many staff members to follow the corrections department’s mask mandate.

VT Digger: Lawmakers, advocates call for Scott to vaccinate incarcerated Vermonters
Since the coronavirus pandemic reached Vermont last year, Gov. Phil Scott has touted his adherence to science and data in addressing the crisis. But on Thursday morning, a number of lawmakers and advocates pointed to what they called a glaring exception to the governor’s track record: his administration’s approach to vaccinating prisoners. At a virtual press conference, they called on Scott to prioritize vaccinating incarcerated Vermonters — and said that should have started months ago.

Champion Newspaper: Half of state’s inmates have received at least one dose of vaccine
Nearly 45 percent of inmates housed in a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prison, which includes the California Institution for Men and the California Institution for Women in Chino, have received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses, state officials announced earlier this month. A total of 42,397 inmates and 25,885 staff members at state prisons have received at least one shot, and doses are being prioritized that meets California Department of Public Health guidelines, prison officials announced.

COVID-19 Testing

Trib Live: Allegheny County Jail to begin testing newly incarcerated inmates for covid
All people entering Allegheny County (PA) Jail to be incarcerated will be tested for covid-19 beginning April 12, according to court records filed this week. The jail will offer coronavirus tests on at least two occasions to new inmates prior to being transferred out of intake housing. A negative test will be required before an inmate can be placed in the general population or otherwise transferred out of intake housing.

Medicaid and Reentry

Springer Link: Policy solutions to end gaps in Medicaid coverage during reentry after incarceration in the United States: experts’ recommendations
In a study concerning Medicaid and reentry the following conclusions were reached: 1) Medicaid coverage gaps during reentry contribute to poor health outcomes and recidivism, 2) excessive burden on justice-involved people to re-activate Medicaid leads to coverage gaps, and 3) scalable policy solutions exist to eliminate Medicaid coverage gaps during reentry. By pursuing strategies to eliminate Medicaid gaps during reentry, policymakers can improve health outcomes and efficiency of government spending on healthcare, and may reduce cycles of incarceration.

Bail Reform

The Hill: California Supreme Court: Judges must consider ability to pay when setting bail
The California Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that judges must consider a suspect's ability to pay when setting bail, essentially suggesting that non-dangerous defendants who cannot afford bail should be released under other conditions. The justices determined that if holding a suspect on bail is necessary, the court must evaluate the defendant’s ability to pay, writing that arrestees can not be held “solely because [they] lacked the resources” to post bail.

Criminal Justice and Technology

The New Yorker: What Data Can’t Do
One of the most controversial uses of algorithms in recent years, as it happens, involves recommendations for the release of incarcerated people awaiting trial. In courts across America, when defendants stand accused of a crime, an algorithm crunches through their criminal history and spits out a risk score, meant to help judges decide whether or not they should be kept behind bars until they can be tried. The algorithm cannot predict who will re-offend. It can predict only who will be rearrested. Arrest rates, of course, are not the same for everyone. For example, Black and white Americans use marijuana at around the same levels, but the former are almost four times as likely to be arrested for possession.

NBC News: Former prisoners struggle to re-enter society. What happens when society moves online?
Many people who leave prison after lengthy sentences, quickly realize they have entered a new world, one dependent on technology and innovation. The challenges have been amplified in the past year as the Covid-19 pandemic has driven many more parts of life online. Many of the social services and job programs that former prisoners rely on to successfully re-enter their communities are inaccessible without a comprehensive knowledge of the internet. Bringing people up to speed can be challenging.

Solitary Confinement

The New York Times: Governor Cuomo, End Long-Term Solitary Confinement
The editorial board of the New York Times writes: New York state legislators passed the HALT (Humane Alternatives to Long-Term) Solitary Confinement Act, aimed at restricting the conditions under which inmates are held in isolation, including limiting confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days. The bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly with a supermajority of support and now awaits action by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He should move promptly to sign the reforms into law. The new restrictions would take effect a year after the bill becomes law.

The Nevada Independent: Bill would further limit solitary confinement, require transparency about how often practice is used
Nevada lawmakers are considering a bill, SB187, that would limit the use of solitary confinement (often referred to by prisons as “segregation”) and require an annual report to the state’s Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice about how frequently the practice is used, the demographics of people affected and what landed inmates in that status.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

KTVU 2: Santa Rita Jail lacks information on inmate mental health, has surplus of $135M
The state auditor on Wednesday issued a lengthy report criticizing three jails in California, singling out Santa Rita Jail for not sharing enough information about the mental health of incarcerated people and having an excess surplus of $135 million, much of which wasn't reported properly. Specifically, Santa Rita Jail in Dublin "lacks sufficient information" regarding whether inmates have mental illnesses, which hinders their ability to make critical housing and care decisions to keep inmates safe.

Governing: Homeless, Mentally Ill and Behind Bars
How to reckon with the impact of COVID-19 on mental health? Research is still emerging about the devastating surge in mental illness for both the young and the old. It's undeniable we're facing a full-blown mental health crisis. But nowhere is this crisis more acute than in the homeless population. The homeless suffer from mental illness at a rate far higher than that of the general population. And to make matters worse, the homeless regularly lack access to care providers and facilities; instead, they too often wind up locked away in jail cells. Lifetime arrest rates for the homeless number between 62.9 percent and 90 percent.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

The Coloradoan: How a Colorado town is untangling behavioral health care from the criminal justice system
When people are in crisis, they call 911, said Stephanie Booco. But just because police are called upon, it doesn’t mean they know what to do. That’s why Booco, a behavioral health co-responder and licensed therapist, works alongside Fort Collins, Colorado, police officers in responding to calls relating to behavioral health. Booco helped launch the co-responder program with Fort Collins Police Services and UCHealth about two years ago. The program pairs Booco, a licensed therapist, with patrol officers when they respond to people in a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

Private Prisons and Correctional Healthcare Providers

Grassroots Leadership: ICE’s contract with CoreCivic to detain immigrants at Hutto flouts federal law
Despite repeated reports of abuse, substandard conditions, and community opposition, ICE continues to contract with CoreCivic to keep t. Don Hutto detentions center open. CoreCivic and its many subcontractors record substantial profits while the women detained at the facility suffer the results of the companies’ cost-cutting measures—and ultimately it is the public that pays for this secretive arrangement. Researchers note that the only appropriate response the federal government must take is to close down Hutto for good and develop humane community-based alternatives to immigration detention.

VT Digger: ACLU urges Vermont Supreme Court to rule for transparency in prison records case
Vermonters should be able to know whether the private company that used to handle prisoners’ health care did a good job while receiving $94 million from the state, the ACLU of Vermont says. The ACLU went to court Monday to support an effort by the Human Rights Defense Center to obtain records of legal claims filed during the five-year period, 2010-15, when Correct Care Solutions held the contract to provide health care for Vermont’s prisoners.