COCHS Weekly Update: July 20, 2021

Highlighted Stories

US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs: Examining the Relationship Between Childhood Trauma and Involvement in the Justice System
This NIJ Journal article discusses findings from seven studies on trauma and justice-involved youth. Childhood trauma caused by exposure to violence has profound and long-lasting consequences on psychological and even biological well-being. Delinquency and adult criminality, substance abuse, poor school performance, depression, and chronic disease are all associated with childhood trauma.

HuffPost: Los Angeles Sheriff Refuses To Enforce New Indoor Mask Mandate
The Los Angeles County sheriff has announced his department won’t enforce the county Department of Public Health’s reinstated indoor mask mandate as COVID-19 cases soar in the area, falsely claiming it’s “not backed by science.” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a statement Friday that he “will not expend our limited resources” to enforce the new order. “Forcing the vaccinated and those who already contracted COVID-19 to wear masks indoors is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines,” he added.

COVID-19 Surges

Corrections 1: COVID-19 outbreaks returning to Missouri prisons
After seeing the number of positive COVID-19 cases dwindle in June, the deadly virus is again on the march within Missouri's sprawling prison system. Prisons in Fulton and Vandalia that had seen case counts drop to the single digits last month are now reporting over 100 cases each. Prisons in St. Joseph and Chillicothe also are seeing increases mirroring the uptick across the state. Similarly, the number of infected employees working in Department of Mental Health facilities doubled this week to 49. And, after eradicating the virus from state-run juvenile detention facilities in late May, the Department of Social Services is reporting nine active cases.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette: Northwest Arkansas jails dealing with more covid cases
County jails once again are dealing with covid-19 positive inmates, officials said. Three inmates in the Benton County Jail tested positive for covid-19 after showing symptoms. Sheriff Shawn Holloway said staff have given inmates the opportunity to receive covid-19 vaccines. He said he didn't know the number of inmates who had been vaccinated. COVID-19 outbreak reported at St. Clair County Jail in Ashville; dozens of inmates test positive
Authorities are reporting an outbreak of COVID-19 at one Alabama county jail. St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray said massive testing was done Wednesday morning at the St. Clair County Jail in Ashville with help from the St. Clair County Health Department. The results showed 37 inmates and one correctional officer tested positive for coronavirus. Chronic overcrowding inside some of Colorado’s county jails, where people are held as they await trial, has been a leading argument behind some officials’ push to build larger facilities to house the growing number of those being arrested. Meanwhile, organizations like the ACLU say there’s no need to keep people who have been accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes behind bars if they pose no threat to the community.

News 4 Jax: Duval County jail sees jump in new COVID-19 cases
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Monday there are now more than 100 COVID-19 cases in Duval County correctional facilities and thousands more inmates have been placed in quarantine as the agency works to get the outbreak under control. The surge in new cases follows a trend across the country and in Jacksonville as the coronavirus Delta variant takes hold.

COVID-19 and Pre-Trial Detention

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Philly jails are in crisis, and a tactic used during COVID-19 is the solution
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said that the Department of Prisons is at a “tipping point” as currently the city’s jails are “unsafe.” She said that when entering the housing pods of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the city’s largest jail, “inmates are screaming, begging to talk to their families, screaming to be let out.” Ninety percent of the people incarcerated are awaiting trial and because of a backlog in court cases, the average length of jail stay has increased from 189 days before the pandemic to 271 as of May. The conditions are unacceptable — for those incarcerated or correctional staff. To address the crisis, the Department of Prisons, District Attorney’s Office, and the courts must roll out a new emergency release plan.

The Colorado Sun: Colorado’s largest jails cut their populations because of coronavirus. Now the numbers are creeping back up.
Colorado’s largest jails are becoming more crowded after population levels dropped to historic lows last year as officials made efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 behind bars. Now, as the world returns to a version of “normal” and court hearings have resumed, numbers are creeping closer to pre-pandemic levels at many of Colorado’s largest jails. It’s a move that criminal justice advocates say is unnecessary, pointing to the pandemic as proof that lowering the incarceration rate in the state is possible.

COVID-19 and Reentry

North Carolina Health News: COVID-19 creates additional challenges for those leaving incarceration in NC
For those leaving prison, vital in-person connection is hard to come by, even in regular times. Finding a job has proven more difficult due to the pandemic-generated lag times for identification and Social Security cards, not to mention broadband disparities that make WiFi moot in some rural areas. about. But as the COVID-19 virus claimed the lives of thousands in the state, businesses and nonprofits closed their doors and most North Carolinians stayed in their homes. Peer support was hard to find. The pandemic forced many support groups and mental health services to shift to online.

COVID-19 Legal Actions

The San Diego Union-Tribune: Judge says lawsuit demanding better COVID-19 practices in San Diego jails may proceed
A class-action lawsuit accusing Sheriff Bill Gore of not doing enough to protect San Diego County jail inmates from the deadly coronavirus may proceed to trial, under an order issued by a Superior Court judge. The initial ruling by Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil came as the COVID-19 infection rate has begun to tick upward across San Diego County and the nation after notable declines this spring. The rise in cases is largely the result of recent slumps in the number of people choosing to be vaccinated and a new variant that spreads the deadly virus more easily.

West Hawaii Today: Judge warns Hawaii to follow safety rules in jails, prisons
A judge ruled she won’t appoint a special master just yet to make sure Hawaii officials are keeping inmates safe from COVID-19, but said she is troubled by allegations in a lawsuit describing “egregious conditions” at prisons and jails that led to virus outbreaks at five of the state’s eight prisons and jails. In a ruling, U.S. District Judge Jill Otake granted class-action status to the lawsuit by inmates alleging state officials mishandled the pandemic and failed to implement its Pandemic Response Plan. Lawyers for the inmates asked the judge to appoint an expert who could ensure the plan is being followed.

Albuquerque Journal: High court weighs inmate safety allegations
Arguing before the state Supreme Court, attorneys clashed Monday over whether New Mexico's prison system offers a meaningful appeals process for inmates who allege the state isn't protecting them from COVID-19. A lawsuit filed by inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the state Criminal Defense Lawyers Association alleges the state failed to take adequate steps to limit infections in prison, triggering a “public health catastrophe” and violation of prisoners' right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Other Legal Actions

ABC News: Deal over prisoner care tossed over Arizona's noncompliance
A judge threw out a 6-year-old legal settlement requiring Arizona to improve health care for thousands of prisoners, saying corrections officials have shown little interest in complying with their obligations under the deal and that it would be absurd to expect the state to act differently in the future. In a withering ruling Friday, Judge Roslyn Silver opted against imposing additional contempt-of-court fines against the state for its longstanding noncompliance and instead said she will take the case to trial.

New York Times: N.Y.C. Jail Officers Sue Over Working Conditions: ‘It Was Hell’
A lawsuit filed this week by a union that represents New York City’s jail officers accuses officials of creating an inhumane working environment at the Rikers Island complex during the coronavirus pandemic, compelling officers to work brutally long shifts in unsanitary and often dangerous conditions. The suit, filed by the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, comes two months after a federal monitor’s report that found a “pervasive level of disorder and chaos” at the city’s jails. The filing followed a string of scandals, reports of surging violence and the deaths of a half-dozen people behind bars.

Overdoses In Corrections

NPR: Overdose Deaths In State Prisons Have Jumped Dramatically Since 2001
Prisons and jails in the United States have been increasingly deadly places in recent years, according to new federal data. But one cause of death has climbed most dramatically: overdoses. From 2001 to 2018, the number of people who have died of drug or alcohol intoxication in state prisons rose more than 600%, according to an analysis of newly-released data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In county jails, overdose deaths increased by more than 200%.

Los Angeles Daily News: Amid nationwide spike in overdose deaths, L.A. County jail program gives lifesaving medicine directly to inmates
Amid a troubling nationwide surge in drug overdose deaths, a Los Angeles County pilot program handing medicine that help prevent such deaths directly to inmates is showing some early signs of success. In May and June, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department began placing doses of naloxone inside the living areas of their jails. The small nozzles, branded as Narcan and resembling over-the-counter nasal sprays, were attached to the walls of dormitories so that anyone inside who sees another inmate appearing to overdose can rip the doses off the wall and administer the medicine themselves.

Women in Corrections

Reuters: 11th Circ. vacatur allows disabled Ga. inmates back into longterm solitary
A federal appeals court has vacated an injunction won by female inmates with psychiatric disabilities in a Georgia jail requiring jail officials to allow them time out of their isolation cells, finding that the injunction expired automatically thanks to a federal law limiting lawsuits over prison conditions. "We are disappointed by the decision," said Devon Orland of the Georgia Advocacy Office in an email, on behalf of all of plaintiffs' counsel, including the Southern Center for Human Rights and Caplan Cobb. "Without an injunction in force, conditions are likely to return to the deplorable state that prevailed for years before this litigation."

PBS News Hour: Why more women are dying in jails
Women are the country’s fastest growing incarcerated group, concentrated in rural counties. From 2008 to 2018, the women’s jail population grew by 15 percent while men’s decreased by 9 percent, according to federal data. In 2018, women had nearly 7 percent higher mortality rate in jails than men, largely due to illness, suicide and drug or alcohol intoxication. The numbers underscore the need to not only assist women’s needs inside the jails, but to also implement systemic reforms, services and programs that can reduce their arrests.

The Denver Post: Colorado’s new laws look to reduce maternal deaths, improve racial disparities
A new law signed by Gov. Jared Polis this month, SB21-193, would add protections for jailed and imprisoned people who are pregnant and postpartum, including a requirement to create opportunities for women to maintain contact with newborn children and receive breastfeeding support. Maternal health is the focus of three new Colorado laws that take effect in September — the other two being SB21-101 and SB21-194. Democrats believe they’ll help address racial disparities, improve health outcomes and reduce the number of people who die during pregnancy and up through a year after having a child.

Juveniles Incarcerated

KOSU NPR: Health Violations Cause Removal Of Juveniles From Oklahoma County Jail
The Oklahoma County Detention Center will lose its state certification to detain minors on Friday after health department inspections found the jail didn’t meet state standards. The State Department of Health previously found in a February inspection that the jail failed to conduct hourly sight checks on children under 18 held in its custody. The health department warned the jail about the deficiencies. An unannounced followup inspection in June found the problems weren’t fixed.

Oklahoma News 4: Oklahoma County Jail trust to discuss OSDH report, barring them from housing juveniles
The report lists many “repeat deficiencies,” including a lack of medical and mental health screenings, juvenile inmates only seeing jail staff during meal times, inmates not being fed three meals a day and it found emergency reporting phone systems and intercoms that don’t work. In the letter, OSDH bars the jail from housing juvenile inmates. The same day that report was sent to the jail, News 4 obtained exclusive video, showing three inmates cooking food on a makeshift grill inside their cell. They also appear to be smoking a joint.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

KUAC: Wellness Courts Help Addicts Stay Out of Jail
Inside Alaska’s Court System is a separate Wellness Court for handling crimes where alcohol and drugs play a significant part. Fairbanks’ DUI and drug Courts started in 2007 with the idea that suspects could change their behavior toward alcohol and drugs and not repeat their crimes. Superior Court Judge Brent Bennet (in addition to his other duties) oversees a caseload of about 30 people in two therapeutic courts in Fairbanks. Called “diversion” courts, people convicted of drug and alcohol crimes work on overcoming addiction in an 18-month long program, instead of going to jail. Alaska has fourteen therapeutic courts statewide. Eight are for cases in which there is a clear link between crimes committed and addiction; three work primarily with defendants with mental health issues; two work with families involved with Child in Need of Aid cases.

Jail Expansion

AP: Alabama asks feds if COVID funds can be used for prisons
Alabama is asking federal officials whether COVID-19 recovery funds can be used to improve state prisons with “better, enhanced, and/or extended infrastructure.” The Montgomery Advertise r reports that Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department asking the question. Dunn framed the request as enhancing health care and programming for inmates. The question arose after Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to lease prisons fell apart because of financing concerns. The U.S. Department of Justice last year sued Alabama over conditions in the state prisons, saying the state is failing to protect male inmates from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff. As federal judges weigh controversial jail expansion, New Orleans City Council again cries foul
Weeks after city officials, under pressure from a federal judge, filed a zoning change application for a controversial jail expansion, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed its second symbolic resolution in 10 months against the proposal. The resolution takes aim at longstanding plans for a $51 million, 89-bed facility meant to house inmates with mental and medical health problems, which critics say would be a costly waste of funds better spent on providing services before people run afoul of the law.

Correctional Health Care Vendors

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia settles with ex-prison doctor who blew whistle on dirty, dangerous facility
Dr. Timothy Young repeatedly alerted state officials about unsafe and unsanitary conditions at Georgia’s flagship prison medical facility. Outside an operating room, he told them, water leaked from ceilings, leading to black mold, and trash was allowed to pile up. Inside the OR, during surgery doctors and nurses had to deal with insects attracted by the debris. The problems at Augusta State Medical Prison persisted, so Young began leaking information about the conditions to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now, the state is settling a lawsuit Young filed alleging that he was the victim of retaliation for blowing the whistle about the problems. The state will pay $300,000 on behalf of defendants Georgia Correctional HealthCare, which provides medical care at the prison.