COCHS Weekly Update: November 23, 2021

Highlighted Stories

COCHS: House Passes Medicaid Reentry Act
On Thursday, November 18, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act (BBB). A key provision in the Act could vastly improve on the health and safety of all communities. The BBB contained language taken from the bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act, which would allow for Medicaid services thirty days before release from a jail or prison. COCHS has provided critical policy support for stakeholders that are advocating for this essential legislation. We are grateful for the partnership of the National Association of Counties, NAMI, Community Catalyst, the National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, the American Medical Association, and the broad network of partners that have supported this legislation.

Miami Herald: White supremacist prison guards work with impunity in Fla.
Florida prison guards can openly tout associations with white supremacist groups to intimidate inmates and Black colleagues and go unpunished, according to allegations in public documents and interviews with a dozen inmates and current and former employees. Corrections officials regularly receive reports about guards’ membership in the Ku Klux Klan and criminal gangs, according to former prison inspectors and current and former officers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Hunger, filth, constant danger: Prisoners’ accounts of Philly jails paint a grim picture
The Philadelphia jails, which house about 4,600 people in a complex in Northeast Philadelphia, have struggled for the past year with a staffing crisis, facility failures including broken locks, and a climate of violence. Fourteen people have died in custody this year. Staff have complained for months that prisoners are able to pop open their cells. The broken locks — now backed up with sliding bolts on many cells — are just one reported plant failure. Some prisoners described floods, freezing temperatures, and infestations of rats, mice, and insects.

New York Review of Books: Making Room for Forgiveness
The American legal system routinely refuses to grant forgiveness to people who commit even minor infractions. Because the tough-on-crime movement that began in the 1970s gave us ever-longer sentences, effectively decimated the parole system, and scared officials away from granting pardons, most of these incarcerated people have effectively no chance of being freed. The American legal system routinely refuses to grant forgiveness to people who commit even minor infractions.

COVID-19 Surge in Corrections

WBUR: COVID-19 cases jump in Mass. jails and prisons after months of minimal spread
About 100 Middleton House of Correction detainees have COVID-19, according to the Essex County Sheriff's Department. Five days ago, there were 57 active cases reported in the jail. Most cases involve mild symptoms and are among people who have been vaccinated, according to a spokesperson for Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger. An additional 28 Essex employees, vendors and volunteers have tested positive.

Spectrum News 1: COVID-19 outbreak pauses transports from Oneida County jail
All transports from the Oneida County Correctional (NY) facilities to outside courts have been temporarily suspended due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the jail. All court appearances, except for scheduled trials and other emergencies that may come up, will be done virtually from the Oneida Correctional Facility. 21 prisoners and 15 corrections officers have tested positive for the virus.

AP: COVID-19 outbreak at Vermont prison spreading
A coronavirus outbreak at a Vermont prison is growing, according to the state Department of Corrections. Nine new cases of COVID-19 were detected at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport during testing conducted on Thursday, the agency said in a statement. Six of the new cases were among inmates and three were among staff.

Opioid Epidemic

New York Times: Overdose Deaths Reached Record High as the Pandemic Spread
Americans died of drug overdoses in record numbers as the pandemic spread across the country, federal researchers reported on Wednesday, the result of lost access to treatment, rising mental health problems and wider availability of dangerously potent street drugs. In the 12-month period that ended in April, more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses, up almost 30 percent from the 78,000 deaths in the prior year, according to provisional figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.

NC Health News: Funds for opioid treatment in jails and after release; prison facility improvement in budget
The long-awaited final budget from the North Carolina General Assembly is finally out, and it includes several provisions that would directly impact the health of North Carolina’s prison system and justice-involved population. While the budget did not include Medicaid expansion, which would help people reentering the community to get the medication and treatment they need, it did allocate money for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for the justice-involved populations as well as reentry programming.

Health Care in Corrections

Inquest: Treating Unfreedom
Dr. Rachael Bedard and Dr. Zachary Rosner write: We are both physicians who work in the New York City jail system. Between us we’ve taken care of hundreds of jail-detained people who were medically vulnerable or who had serious mental illness or substance-use disorders. The activist Mariame Kaba famously describes jails and prisons as “death-making institutions.” That the institutions where we deliver care should be considered “death-making” is deeply uncomfortable for us, but it is also illuminating. It makes our work feel simultaneously urgent and Sisyphean.

The Oklahoman: Reports detail ongoing health and safety issues at Oklahoma County Jail
Two recently issued reports detail a litany of continuing health and safety problems at the long-troubled Oklahoma County jail, which has been run by a county trust since July 2020.At least a dozen people have died in the past 12 months while in jail custody, including an inmate shot by police after taking a jail worker hostage, and several people have escaped from the facility. The National Institute of Corrections noted that “sanitation of the facility was very disturbing,” and that housing units were “in poor condition.” Mental health assessments at intake and sight checks during detention were listed as repeat violations by the state health department.

Geriatric Care in Corrections

The Intercept: The Geriatric Ward
Nearly two-thirds of the 135 people on death row in North Carolina are over the age of 50, which the state defines as “elderly.” Based on current trends, within the next 10 years, approximately 90 percent of people on death row will be considered elderly. Many have from chronic diseases and conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and hepatitis C. With the passage of time, death row, in many ways, is transforming into an informal geriatric unit.

Transgender Challenges in Corrections

NC Health News: Outside the binary and behind bars: Incarcerated transgender and intersex people face challenges
Intersexuality is a blanket term that applies to people born with sex characteristics that don’t fit the gender binary, whether it be because of their chromosomes, gonads or genitalia. North Carolina’s prison system houses 103 transgender and five intersex incarcerated people. But the prison system operates on a gender binary, meaning that while the Prison Rape Elimination Act mandates that prisons make individualized decisions on where to house transgender and intersex people, they are often put in facilities that align with their sex at birth.

Prison Reform

Yahoo! News: Opinion: Bad food and medical care and even worse problems make prison reform a must
John C. Hamler who runs Hamler Inmate Ministry writes: I have run a non-profit for over seven years, called Hamler Inmate Ministry. I serve roughly 100 inmates in 14 different prisons. Through the years, I have heard horror stories. One inmate friend of mine had to wear a hearing aid made for another inmate because they didn’t want to replace it. Another had an infected toe, but prison officials refused to let him go the prison hospital. As a result, when he did get there, not only did he lose a toe, he also lost part of his foot.

Patch: Illinois Criminal Justice Reformers Won A Historic Legislative Victory In 2021, But The Law They Passed Isn't A Done Deal
The SAFE-T Act, changed a controversial rule that let prosecutors charge people with murder when their accomplices were killed by a third party while committing a forcible felony; established a new process to decertify abusive cops; required body cameras for all Illinois cops; and limited when police can use deadly force, among other changes. But law enforcement groups, police unions, and Republican lawmakers have characterized the pretrial reform and other SAFE-T Act measures as a danger to public safety and an attack on police.

Solitary Confinement

Press Herald: Inmates in solitary confinement go on hunger strike at Maine State Prison
Inmates in solitary confinement at the Maine State Prison in Warren went on a hunger strike Monday to protest their living conditions. The hunger strike was first publicized by the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, which has been in touch with some of the prisoners in the unit. Inmates held there are locked in at least 22 hours each day, have no access to religious services and lack adequate medical and mental health treatment.


NC Health News: Evidence-based reentry resources key for sicker incarcerated population, researchers say
Reentering society after incarceration, whether it be after a week-long detainment at the local jail or over a decade in prison, can be a challenge — especially since incarcerated people are frequently sicker than the general population, with higher rates of diseases such as diabetes or hepatitis C. Mental illness and incarceration are often intertwined. A 2014 report from the National Research Council found that 64 percent of jail detainees, 54 of state prisoners and 45 of federal prisoners reported mental health concerns.

Juvenile Justice & Mental Health

National Library of Medicine: Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Continuity of Psychiatric Disorders in a 15-Year Longitudinal Study of Youths Involved in the Juvenile Justice System
Previous studies have found that one-half to three-quarters of youths detained in juvenile justice facilities have 1 or more psychiatric disorders. Little is known about the course of their disorders as they age. This study included 1829 youths sampled at baseline (1172 males and 657 females; mean age, 14.9 years). Although prevalence and comorbidity of psychiatric disorders decreased as the 1829 participants aged, 52.3% of males and 30.9% of females had at least 1 or more psychiatric disorders 15 years post-detention.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health In a overcrowded justice system, mental health diversions work
Unlike 22 other states, New Jersey doesn’t have a network of mental health courts, where defendants who commit nonviolent, petty crimes can be diverted to treatment programs if they have a mental illness. But legislative efforts to create mental health courts have been stalled for years in our state, and our finest jurists have decided that this can no longer wait. A mental health diversion program adopted by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner was recently launched in Essex and Morris Counties, and it could become the model used throughout the rest of the state.

Mad in America: “Grave Disability” and the Path Between Prison and Involuntary Psychiatric Care
Mental illness is highly prevalent in US correctional facilities, and incarcerated people can still meet the criteria for grave disability, which often leads them to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. However, assessing grave disability in correctional environments can be challenging, and simply meeting diagnostic criteria for a mental illness does not necessarily indicate a grave disability. Further, prisons often have shortages of mental health professionals who can help with determination.

OPB: Federal judge orders Oregon State Hospital to admit 2 people stuck in jail for months
A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order Monday that directed the Oregon State Hospital to admit two mentally ill people who have remained imprisoned in the Multnomah County Detention Center for months, despite previous court orders and fines. U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez said the men must be admitted to the state’s largest psychiatric facility within the next seven days.

Correctional Health Care Providers

The Advocate: Officials hope new firm can provide better jail medical care, keep Baton Rouge inmates alive
A vocal group of inmate rights advocates, waving goodbye to CorrectHealth would be a major cause for celebration in Baton Rouge — something they started demanding years ago, after discovering that the death rate inside East Baton Rouge Parish Prison was more than double the national average for pretrial detention facilities. Just last week, a Baton Rouge prisoner was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead, officials recently confirmed.

Virginia Mercury: Fight erupts over plan to stop outsourcing prison health care in Virginia
When the head of Virginia’s prison system announced to staff members this summer that he planned to end the practice of outsourcing medical care to a private contractor, his memo to employees suggested the decision was final. Armor Health, the Florida-based company that suddenly faced the prospect of losing its $90-million contract to staff prisons with doctors and nurses, had other ideas. Records show the company embarked on a monthslong campaign to override Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke, at times flaunting the sway the company believes it holds with lawmakers.