COCHS Weekly Update: January 11, 2022

Highlighted Stories

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Costs and Consequences of Eliminating a Routine, Point-Of-Care HIV Screening Program in a High-Prevalence Jail
Emory University researchers, in collaboration with the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health, have demonstrated that routine, point-of-care HIV screening in the Fulton County Jail was not just cost effective but cost saving, as well as able to uncover more HIV cases, compared to targeted testing and sending tests to a laboratory. Up until 2018, Fulton County Jail offered opt-out rapid screening at entry.

New York Times: Federal Prisons Director Is Resigning After Rocky Tenure
The head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons plans to resign as the agency struggles with issues that have overshadowed his tenure, including employee misconduct, understaffing and violence. The director, Michael Carvajal, was appointed in February 2020 and will step down once a successor is in place. The Associated Press reported last month that more than 100 employees at the Bureau of Prisons had been arrested, convicted of or sentenced for crimes in the past three years alone.

New York Times: N.Y. Prisons Punished 1,600 Based on Faulty Drug Tests, Report Finds
New York’s prison system unjustly penalized more than 1,600 incarcerated people based on faulty drug tests, putting them in solitary confinement, delaying their parole hearings and denying them family visits, the New York State inspector general said in a damning report released on Tuesday. The arbitrary penalties were meted out across the state over an eight-month period in 2019

US News & World Report: Church Shooting Survivor Gives Scholarships to Prison Nurses
One of the survivors of a racist massacre at an African American church in South Carolina has started giving out scholarships from her foundation to students who want to provide health care to prisoners. Polly Daniels Sheppard set aside money from speaking engagements and other events to create the Polly Sheppard Foundation. Sheppard was one of five people inside Emanuel AME church to survive in June 2015 when a racist sat through Bible study, then shot and killed nine members of the church. Sheppard worked as a nurse at the Charleston County jail for 14 years and said she was bothered that there was always a lack of health workers with compassion for the people they might be helping behind bars.

COVID-19 in Corrections

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office reports 62 employees, 254 people held in jail test positive for COVID-19
Dozens of Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office employees and more than 250 people held in the jail have tested positive for COVID-19, the office said in a statement Wednesday. The department said 62 employees and 254 people held in the jail had tested positive and attributed the increase in cases to the highly infectious omicron variant.

Citizen Tribune: Prison health care issues widespread in Tennessee
Tennessee’s prison population has been affected by COVID-19 far more than the general population, according to a report from the Tennessee Justice Center. One in 300 staff members and 1 in 515 prisoners who contracted COVID-19 have died, according to the report. The Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit public interest law and advocacy firm, said Tennessee spends $2 billion a year on inmate health care and the cost is expected to increase since the prison population is expected to increase and get older.

Press Democrat: 200 inmates on lockdown at Sonoma County Jail amid COVID-19 outbreak
Nearly 200 people detained at the Sonoma County Jail are on lockdown because of a COVID-19 outbreak among staff and inmates — the third such outbreak at the jail since the pandemic started nearly two years ago. Seven jail employees and 12 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 28, authorities confirmed Tuesday. The outbreak comes as COVID-19 cases are beginning to surge in Sonoma County, partly fueled by the highly infectious omicron variant.

NC Health News: ‘Worst case scenario’: Omicron looms large over NC prisons
As the Omicron variant begins to spread across the country, it is inevitable that it will end up in North Carolina’s prison system — if it isn’t there already. It is unclear whether the more contagious Omicron is driving COVID-19 cases across North Carolina’s prison system, but if the variant is behind bars now, it’s not a question of if but when, experts say.

FOX 13: Salt Lake County Jail to pause visitation due to COVID-19 spread
The Salt Lake County Jail is temporarily suspending visitation. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office announced Saturday afternoon that in-person visitation will be paused at both the Metro and Oxbow jail. As of Thursday, the jail had 13 COVID-positive inmates, according to the county's website. Since March 31, 2020, there have been 163.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Corrections

My Journal Courier: Arbitrator backs state's prison worker vaccine mandate
An arbitrator has backed the state's mandate for COVID-19 vaccinations for prison guards and Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice workers. That will mean about 10,000 employees in 46 Illinois Department of Corrections facilities and five Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice facilities will have until Jan. 31 to get at least their first coronavirus vaccine unless they receive a medical or religious exemption.

West Hawaii Today: State offering inmates $25 incentive to get booster shot
The state is offering a $25 incentive for fully vaccinated inmates in the custody of the Department of Public Safety. The move follows department’s $50 incentive announced in October 2021 aimed at getting inmates their first COVID-19 shots. The payments are deposited into the inmate’s spendable trust account.

COVID-19 Early Release & Recidivism

gothamist: A Year After NJ Released Thousands Early From Prison, Only 9% Are Back in Custody
New Jersey’s first-in-the-nation move to free thousands from prison early due to the pandemic hasn’t significantly affected public safety numbers. The state’s early release program gave people nearing the end of their sentence “public health credits” cutting the prison population by 40% in a span of 11 months. Public records request shows about 9% of those were re-incarcerated.

COVID-19 Voices of Families & Friends

WOAY: Loved ones protest against poor inmate treatment at local prison
Friends and families of the women at Alderson Federal Prison (WV) say their loved ones are suffering.They had a peaceful protest Wednesday in downtown Alderson, due to a rampant COVID-19 outbreak and short supply of staff. These friends and families claim authorities don’t seem to care. Once the Cares Act was put in place to potentially get inmates out, reports of guards instigating fights with the inmates started to come about. They claim the guards would write the inmates up, ensuring they cannot leave.

FOX 25: Community pays tribute to those who died in the Oklahoma County Jail
Protesters are speaking out against what they're calling injustices inside the Oklahoma County Jail. For decades the jail has been plagued with a laundry list of health issues and safety violations. A group of people stood outside the jail on Saturday, banging drums and shouting in megaphones to make sure the people inmates heard that someone is listening to them.

Rikers Island

The City: Eric Adams’ New Jail Commissioner Pushes Out Acclaimed Head of Investigations
Mayor Eric Adams’ new jails boss is replacing the department’s head of investigations, Sarena Townsend, who tackled thousands of backlogged use-of-force cases in collaboration with a court-appointed monitor — drawing the ire of unions representing correction officers. Over the past year, Townsend, 40, processed a mountain of 8,800 internal investigations into the department’s use-of-force incidents against detainees, dating as far back as 2017.

New York Magazine: Rikers: The Obituaries Fifteen people at the jail died in 2021. These are their lives — and how they came to an end.
2021 began with Rikers Island in a miserable state, with every indication that conditions would soon get much worse. COVID was spiking. After nearly two years without a suicide at the facility, a man hanged himself before the month was out. A gruesome incident followed in early March, then another suicide, then an overdose.

District of Columbia

dcist: With Jury Trials On Pause, A Growing Number of Inmates Are Being Held Indefinitely At The D.C. Jail
According to statistics published by the D.C. Department of Corrections, pretrial felons who are men spend an average of 10-11 months in DOC custody, while women average between eight and nine months. But experts say the pandemic has created such a backlog at the D.C. Superior Court that many defendants could be held for years before their trials begin. The pileup has led to an increase of the jail’s population, alarming experts who say overcrowding puts inmates at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Washingtonian: The January Sixers Have Their Own Unit at the DC Jail. Here’s What Life Is Like Inside.
The DC Jail is even more segregated than the city it serves. Just 3 percent of the inmates, on average, are white; 87 percent are Black. What happens inside when you lock up dozens of overwhelmingly white men arrested as part of a radical-right insurrection? The jail’s overseers decided they didn’t want to find out. The Sixers—as they’re known to their faithful—were confined to a medium-security annex, away from other prisoners.

Washington Post: District funds help ex-offenders launch businesses. But the path has not been easy for some.
Since 2016, the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) has offered Aspire to help formerly incarcerated city residents. The $250,000-a-year program has educated and provided financial help to more than 100 ex-offenders. The men and women complete a 12-week course sponsored by the business development office, and everyone who participates receives at least a $2,000 grant to help them launch their business.

Racial Disparities

VT Digger: Research shows Black people are 6 times more likely than white people to be jailed in Vermont
In 2019, Black people were six times more likely to be jailed than white people in Vermont, even though they made up just 1.4% of the population. They were also more likely to be locked up for felony property and drug offenses. The Justice Center of the Council of State Governments presented its latest findings to Vermont lawmakers. Action toward what’s been called Justice Reinvestment has included restructuring Vermont’s community supervision program to reduce the likelihood that people will reoffend.

Use of Force

New York Times: Officers Ran Off After Firing Stun Gun That Set Man Ablaze, Video Shows
Disturbing footage released publicly by New York State attorney general, Letitia James, shows a large man in a police station squirting his head and body with hand sanitizer from a large dispenser. An encounter with two officers, caught by a security camera, appears to grow tense. The officers move toward the man, who is out of the camera’s frame, and one officer fires a stun gun at the man. Suddenly, the officers run off as the man re-enters the frame, his head and body in flames.

New York Times: Ex-Sheriff’s Deputy Pleads Guilty in Killing of Unarmed Man Who Fled Police
A former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot an unarmed man after he escaped from a patrol car and ran pleaded guilty on Friday to voluntary manslaughter. The unarmed man was mentally ill and had a lifelong fear of the police, a lawyer for his family has said.

Criminal Justice Reform

Undark: The Public Health Case for Decarcerating America’s Prison System
Politicians in the United States have chosen for decades to spend trillions of dollars to manage poverty, addiction, and homelessness via policing and prisons. As a result, around 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated people are held in one of the world’s wealthiest nations — despite it containing less than 5 percent of the global population.

New York Times: Manhattan D.A. Acts on Vow to Seek Incarceration Only for Worst Crimes
Manhattan’s new district attorney began this week to adopt the lenient policies he campaigned on, setting the stage for potential conflict inside and outside his office as he tries to change the way criminal justice is administered in the borough. The district attorney, Alvin Bragg, told prosecutors in his office in a memo that they should ask judges for jail or prison time only for the most serious offenses — including murder, sexual assault and economic crimes involving vast sums of money.

Marin Independent Journal: California Supreme Court rejects early releases for violent crime
The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that corrections officials need not consider earlier release for violent felons, even those whose primary offense is considered nonviolent under state law. The ruling stems from inmates’ latest attempt to expand the application of an initiative championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and approved by nearly two-thirds of voters in 2016. But the high court ruled that corrections officials acted properly in drafting regulations that “exclude from nonviolent offender early parole consideration any inmate who ‘is currently serving a term of incarceration for a ‘violent felony.’”

Opioids & Harm Reduction

National Council Webinar Registration: Leveraging Innovation and Technology to Care for People Who Use Drugs: Strategies from the Field
This webinar will highlight innovative strategies and discuss resources and practices to overcome challenges related to implementing telehealth and technology-assisted supports. Attendees will hear from three experts in the field who have leveraged technology and virtual services to provide care and services to people who use drugs, including through mail-based harm reduction supply delivery, establishing Never Use Alone, a safer use hotline, and by providing telehealth-based treatment to people with opioid use disorder.

New York Times: New York Plans to Install ‘Vending Machines’ With Anti-Overdose Drugs
New York City health officials have announced a plan to install 10 “public health vending machines” that would dispense sterile syringes, an anti-overdose medication and other “harm reduction” supplies to help neighborhoods that have been hit hard by drug overdoses. The vending machines, which are planned for neighborhoods in all five boroughs, will also carry toiletries and safe-sex kits.

NC Health News: Contradictory state laws aimed at stopping drug overdoses aren’t applied equally
When Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Denton) pushed for Senate Bill 20 in 2013, known as North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law, he believed it was a way to address the spiraling overdose deaths. The law permitted people who are “acting in good faith” to seek medical help for someone who is overdosing without fear of being prosecuted. Almost immediately legislators began chipping away at the law. Two years later, the law was amended to appease law enforcement who worried that it gave a “get out of jail free’” card to users.

Data & Statistics

Vera Institute: Incarceration Trends Update
Revised site includes a trove of data, visualizations, and analytical tools on local jail and state prison populations and demographics.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

The Crime Report: Mental Illness and the Justice System
To what extent should those who suffer from extreme mental illness be held accountable for their actions, and what consequences should they face? Is a long prison sentence true justice? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), between 10 percent and 15 percent of U.S. prisoners suffer from serious mental illnesses. However, most of these incarcerated individuals fail to receive proper treatment for their disorders.

The Lens: Class-action lawsuit over conditions and mental health care at David Wade correctional set for trial next week
A class-action lawsuit filed nearly four years ago by people in custody at David Wade Correctional Center — a state prison in Claiborne Parish — over allegedly inadequate mental health care and improper use of solitary confinement is set to go to trial. The lawsuit claims that prison officials do not properly screen, diagnose or treat mental illness for prisoners held in solitary confinement — also referred to as “extended lockdown” or “restrictive housing” — where they are held in their cell for 23 hours a day and rarely allowed social interaction.

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

South Bend Tribune: To fix jail overcrowding, Indiana lawmakers look to send more Hoosiers back to prison
In order to move forward with long-stated goals of addressing drug addiction and mental illness inside Indiana's county jails, state lawmakers are looking backward. House Bill 1004 would allow judges to resume sentencing people convicted of low-level felonies into state prisons instead of primarily packing them into local jails. The state's 92 jails are routinely overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with a huge influx of people with addiction and other mental health issues.