COCHS Weekly Update: August 17, 2021

Highlighted Stories

The New Yorker: A Fight to Expose the Hidden Human Costs of Incarceration
The lethality of jails and prisons was underscored during the pandemic: according to JAMA, the infection rate for covid-19 was five times higher among state and federal prisoners than among the general population, and an incarcerated person with the virus was three times more likely to die than a non-incarcerated person who got infected. Homer Venters, an epidemiologist and the former medical director of correctional health services in New York City, told me that a lack of concern for the safety and well-being of incarcerated people played a role. Officials often assured him that they screened prisoners daily and adhered to the social-distancing guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, but prisoners told him a different story, complaining that the bathrooms lacked soap and that symptomatic people who submitted sick-call requests were ignored.

Office of Senator Bill Cassidy: Cassidy, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Provide Medicaid Due Process for Americans Awaiting Trial
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Due Process Continuity of Care Act. The bill amends Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy (MIEP) to ensure that pre-trial detainees are not kicked off Medicaid prior to ever being found guilty of a crime. MIEP denies federal benefits to individuals who are incarcerated and applies both to those who have been found guilty of a crime and those held pending adjudication who are still presumed innocent (Pretrial status detainees). This denial of federal benefit without due process also shifts the full financial burden of health care of inmates on to local jails and taxpayers. The weight of this burden is severely straining local jail budgets and resulting in unmet care needs of pretrial status detainees, which comprise approximately two-thirds of people held in local jails.

North Carolina Health News : Jails have become the safety net for medical crises. Some counties can't keep up."
Jails in North Carolina bear the medical responsibility for people who are in their care, meaning any necessary medical procedures come out of taxpayer funds. Even if people in jail were on Medicaid before intake, they are no longer covered. Some counties, especially rural counties in the western part of the state, are calling for Medicaid to be expanded to help cover these costs and reduce recidivism.

Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: Senate Clears Whitehouse-Cornyn Bill To Fight Substance Use In Jails & Prisons, Support Inmates Upon Release
The Senate has passed the bipartisan Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Act of 2021 by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill will expand access to substance use treatment in jails and prisons around the country, and help those exiting correctional facilities continue their treatment in the community. The bill’s passage follows Whitehouse and Cornyn’s success in passing federal corrections reforms in 2018. “Senator Cornyn and I are making real progress on the problems facing our prison systems. This bill builds on successful efforts in states like Rhode Island to expand medication-assisted treatment to help people recover and stay out of trouble after serving time. It also continues our work passing proven, bipartisan solutions on corrections issues,” said Senator Whitehouse.

Correctional Officer Unions Fighting Vaccine Mandates

Levittown State Prison Guards, Other Unions Bargain Over PA Vaccine Policy
Pennsylvania have faced a choice in dealing with Gov. Tom Wolf’s new policy ordering tens of thousands of state employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests. As of Thursday, at least 4,800 corrections staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020. At least eight staffers have died. But vaccination rates have also remained low among corrections officers. Just over 20 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to Department of Corrections data. Corrections Officers Association President John Eckenrode has instructed legal counsel to challenge the proposed policy.

The Sacramento Bee: California correctional officers union to fight new COVID-19 vaccine mandate, memo says
The union representing California state correctional officers plans to fight vaccination requirements for its members, according to a Friday memo. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association said in the emailed note to members that it would use “all the tools at its disposal,” including legal appeals and labor negotiations, to fight two recent efforts to mandate vaccinations. The union is not contesting a July 26 order from Gov. Gavin Newsom that said most state workers must get vaccinated.

COVID-19 Delta Surge in Corrections

Mercury News: Santa Rita Jail visitation suspended due to COVID-19 cases
All in-person visitation is being suspended at Santa Rita Jail due to rising COVID-19 cases, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department announced. In a tweet Saturday, the sheriff’s department cited a recommendation from the Alameda County Public Health Department, saying “all in-person visiting” at the jail will be “suspended until further notice.” The jail had 10 incarcerated people who were currently positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday, and 12 staff members or contractors who were positive, according to the sheriff’s office coronavirus dashboard for the jail.

The Maui News: Jail battles growing COVID-19 cluster
Jail officials attributed Maui Community Correctional Center’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases to “the rapid community spread across the state” as the outbreak grew to 60 active cases among inmates and staff as of Wednesday. The state Department of Public Safety reported 58 more inmate test results for the Maui jail on Wednesday, including 21 positive results and 37 negative. There are now 43 active inmate cases and 17 active staff member cases, according to the department’s Health Care Division.

San Francisco Chronicle: COVID surges in hospitals, jails spur new health order in Contra Costa County
Contra Costa County will begin requiring first responders to prove they’re fully vaccinated or submit to weekly coronavirus tests as infections send hospitalizations surging and cause new outbreaks in local jails and residential facilities, the county announced Friday. County data shows 189 people were hospitalized as of Friday, a 400% increase from the previous month and a 26.1% increase compared with a week ago. More than 80% of the admitted patients hadn’t been vaccinated, the county said.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

Sioux Land Proud: Iowa county sheriff refusing COVID-19 vaccines for prisoners
An east-central Iowa county sheriff is refusing to allow jail inmates access to COVID-19 vaccines, citing the jail’s lack of medical staff, among other things. Television station KCRG reports that Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera confirmed that inmates are not being given access to the vaccines, saying in an email that “we do not have medical staff on-site that could give the vaccine even if we did offer it.” Kucera says inmates have little risk of exposure, because each prisoner is quarantined for a time before being placed into the general population.

Tampa Bay Times: As new COVID cases hit Florida prisons, staff vaccination rates are unknown
Coronavirus cases are hitting Florida correctional facilities anew, with state and federal prisons, jails and an immigration detention center reporting COVID-19 infections. The new infections come as Florida has taken center stage amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. Currently, the Florida Department of Corrections is not releasing vaccination rates among detention staff, data that a little over half of other states in the nation have opted to disclose. The state used to provide information about active staff infections, but stopped sharing this data two months ago.

New York Times: Get a Covid-19 Vaccine or Face Prison, Judges Order in Probation Cases
As cases of coronavirus infections rise in Ohio, some judges have attached unusual conditions for those released on probation: Get a Covid-19 vaccine or face being sent to prison. On Aug. 4, Judge Christopher A. Wagner of the Court of Common Pleas in Hamilton County told Brandon Rutherford, who was convicted on drug offenses, that as part of his release on “community control,” or probation, he must receive the vaccination within 60 days.

Racial Disparities

Public Policy Institute of Corrections: California Jails and COVID-19
Early in the pandemic, state and county governments sought to curb coronavirus transmission among the incarcerated by instituting policies that quickly reduced jail populations. These policies rapidly reduced the number of people awaiting trial and serving sentences in county jails. Within two months, the statewide jail population fell from more than 72,000 inmates in February to just above 50,000 in May 2020. During that period, weekly bookings were halved relative to their pre-pandemic level of about 17,000. As coronavirus cases ebbed and flowed across the state, jails were identified as potential sites of community spread and drivers of racial disparities in infection rates.

Crime Report: Race, Disability and Criminal Justice
Efforts to tackle systemic racism in the administration of justice need to include a focus on the rights of the disabled community, according to a University of Pennsylvania law professor. Even though race and disability may not often be discussed in the realm of criminal justice, their intersection plays a large part in the activities of law enforcement in at-risk communities, writes Jasmine Harris in a paper published in Yale Law Journal. Research shows that people of color, specifically Black people, are more likely to have interactions with the police than white people. This is heightened if the individual has a disability.

Pregnancy in Corrections

Pregnancy in Corrections: One state is trying to make pregnancy in prison slightly more bearable
The Healthy Start Act allows pregnant mothers to serve their sentences in community alternatives, such as halfway houses or addiction rehabilitation centers. Minnesota passed the Healthy Start Act, which allows pregnant mothers to serve their sentences in community alternatives, such as halfway houses or addiction rehabilitation centers. The change allows mothers and their babies to bond during what is recognized as a crucial period when nurturing is particularly important for the development of children.

Juveniles in Corrections

OCR: LA court filing seeks to bolster protections for children in immigration custody
The federal government continues to detain migrant children indefinitely in makeshift facilities that are unsafe, unsanitary and damaging to children’s physical and mental well-being, two immigrant rights groups alleged in a court filing on Monday, Aug, 9, that calls on a Los Angeles judge to enforce legal safeguards. The motion to enforce, filed in Los Angeles federal court, asks the court to enforce the landmark 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which established basic standards of care for children in immigration custody.

Healthcare in Corrections

Daily News: NYC jails medical staff fear for safety, blame staffing shortage: ‘Nobody wants to die at work’
Staffing shortages at Rikers Island are causing delays in the medical treatment of inmates, and health care workers there worry those lags and lapses in protocol are putting them in grave danger. Moving inmates within and outside the jail complex to receive medical treatment has been a challenge for years, but medical staffers claim the delivery of that essential service has degraded significantly in the last two years. An escort officer must transfer inmates from their cells to a jail clinic or to a hospital outside Rikers. But correction officer shortages and emergencies that cause them to be pulled from their escort assignments can cause delays.

Opioid Epideminc

New York Times: As Overdoses Soar, This State’s Largest Needle Exchange Is Being Evicted
Atlantic City’s syringe-access program, born in the wake of the AIDS crisis, has been ordered to close amid two new health emergencies: a record-setting spike in opioid overdoses nationwide and a pandemic that has exposed profound flaws in the health care safety net, particularly among the poor and in communities of color. A majority of the Democrat-led Atlantic City City Council voted last month to evict Oasis after expressing frustration that it was the only place in southeast New Jersey where intravenous drug users can trade in needles. This, they believe, draws transient addicts to a city that has been down on its luck for decades.

The Marshall Project: These Meds Prevent Overdoses. Few Federal Prisoners Are Getting Them
In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, a wide-ranging prison reform legislation that, among other things, required the federal prison system to expand access to medications for people addicted to opioids. Amid a historic spike in overdoses, both inside prisons and jails and in the country at large, the idea was to save lives: These medications reduce drug use and protect against overdose, and the weeks just after release are a particularly vulnerable time for formerly incarcerated people. The Act came with tens of millions of dollars for implementation. Yet bureaucratic inertia and outdated thinking about addiction treatment means the federal program is still serving only a tiny fraction of those eligible.


National Institute of Corrections: Model Practices for Parents in Prisons and Jails: Building Partnerships & Innovative Practices
The National Institute of Corrections in collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance is pleased to announce an upcoming webinar entitled “Building Partnerships & Innovative Practices” as part of an ongoing webinar series from the Family Connections Project. The presenters of the webinar will discuss their unique partnerships centered on keeping children connected to their incarcerated parents.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact on Mental Health

ABC 15: Arizona’s ‘drinking toilet water’ jail lawsuit ends
An Arizona grandmother has settled a lawsuit with Gila County after she was forced to drink toilet water in jail. Tamara Barnicoat, 63, said she received $130,000 in the case, which stemmed from her 2019 detention. Several weeks after ABC15’s initial report on Barnicoat, a sheriff’s official came to her house with a check for $7,500 and a written agreement not to pursue future legal claims, according to court documents.

NBC News: Prison suicides have been rising for years. Experts fear the pandemic has made it worse.
Nationwide, prison suicides have been increasing for years, and some experts worry worsening conditions and staff shortages brought on by the pandemic may accelerate that rise. Delays in data reporting, though, make it difficult to tell: The most recent national figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed an 85 perccent increase in state and federal prison suicides from 2001 to 2018, but 2020 data won’t come out until next year.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Tyler Morning Telegraph: Smith County accepts grant to help inmates with mental health issues
Smith County commissioners on Tuesday accepted a grant to hire an advocate to help with those struggling with mental health in the county jail. The grant from Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health for the Community Diversion Coordinator Pilot Program effectively allows the county to hire someone as an advocate for individuals in the county jail dealing with mental health issues.

Private Prisons

NJ Spotlight News: While Murphy waits to act, ICE extends detainee contract
Gov. Phil Murphy could have prevented the renewal of a contract to house immigration detainees at an Elizabeth facility, advocates said as they urged him to sign a law banning such deals in the state. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that it has extended its contract through August 2023 with CoreCivic, one of the country’s largest private prison companies, to house detainees. Currently, CoreCivic leases a building in an industrial section of Elizabeth where it houses the detainees for ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations in New Jersey. The current population at the facility is 134.