COCHS Weekly Update: March 22, 2022

Highlighted Stories

Yale Law School: Medicaid Waivers, Prison Health & Reentry (Registration)
A discussion on access to care in prisons, reentry, and Medicaid Waiver Programs will be held on April 13, 12:10PM - 1:00PM EDST.

Office Of US Senator John Cornyn: Cornyn, Klobuchar Lead Reauthorization of the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act
The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act would reauthorize the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) and make several improvements to provide grantees with greater options to respond and treat individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. The bill would provider support for: mental health courts, training of public safety officers and mental health providers; coresponder teams; linkage to care systems; and suicide prevention in jails.

PEW: Five Evidence-Based Policies Can Improve Community Supervision
The Pew Charitable Trusts set out to help meet that need by reviewing state statutes affecting probation systems in all 50 states—which collectively supervise roughly four times as many people as do parole systems—and identified the extent to which states have adopted key policies to help strengthen and shrink those systems. Research suggests that five policies can help states achieve key community supervision reform goals: limit probation terms, provide earned compliance credits, limit incarceration before a violation hearing, and prohibit driver’s license suspension for inability to pay fines and fees.

COVID-19 In Corrections

BMC Public Health: Incarcerated workers: overlooked as essential workers
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that incarcerated people be prioritized for vaccination primarily due to the risk present in congregate style prison and jail facilities. Furthermore, our review found that many incarcerated people perform labor that should be considered “essential”, which provides another reason why they should have been among the first in line for COVID-19 vaccine allocation.

CIDRAP: COVID-19 in US prisoners, staff at triple the community rate
A study of COVID-19 rates among inmates and staff at 101 US federal prisons compared with surrounding counties from May 2020 through January 2021 finds three-times-higher infection rates in prisons. Per capita COVID-19 rates were significantly higher among prisoners than in staff and the community and were significantly linked with prison security level early in the pandemic, ranked from lowest rate to highest: High, minimum, medium, and low security.

California Healthline: Sharing Covid Vax Facts Inside ICE Detention, One Detainee at a Time
ICE has seven detention centers in California, six of them managed by private prison companies. In the two years since the pandemic took hold, covid outbreaks have plagued detainees in recurring waves. The California facilities have been the target of lawsuits alleging lax efforts to prevent and contain covid outbreaks. Under a settlement reached in January, immigration officials agreed to adhere to numerous covid-related protections for the next three years, including sharp limits on the detainee population to allow for adequate distancing and regular testing.

Rikers Island

New York Times: Rikers Still ‘Unstable and Unsafe’ Under New Jails Chief, Watchdog Says
Despite New York City’s claims to have made progress in remedying the crisis on Rikers Island, the jail complex remains awash in violence and disorder fed by chronic staff absenteeism, according to a report filed in federal court. As of late January, roughly one in three jailers had failed to show up to work, according to the report, issued by a federal monitor appointed to oversee reforms at the jail complex.

CBS/YouTube: Federal monitor outlines continued dysfunction at Rikers Island
Another Rikers Island detainee has died in custody as the federal monitor outlines continued dysfunction at the jail complex.

Health & Safety Conditions In Corrections

The Nation: An Overhaul of Prison Health Care Is Long Overdue
Medical care has long been a common complaint in jails and prisons. In 2019, the Correctional Association of New York (CANY) found that only 32 percent of people in New York prisons were satisfied with the medical care they received. For years, lawmakers have sought to improve prison health care by enabling the state’s Department of Health to monitor and oversee prison health care. Governor Cuomo vetoed many of these attempts. Tracie Gardner, senior vice president of advocacy at the Legal Action Center, expressed optimism that efforts to promote oversight could fare better under a new governor, Kathy Hochul.

The Appeal: Illinois Prison Water Contaminated with Bacteria That Causes Legionnaires’ Disease
Last week, officials in Illinois reported that they had detected legionella bacteria, which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal type of pneumonia, in the water at two state prisons. Incarcerated people at Stateville and Northern Reception Center have reported that the water “smells like sewage,” said Mills. The two prisons are on the same campus. Contaminated water has been a long-standing problem in prisons throughout Illinois.

Times of San Diego: Sheriff’s Dept. Details Changes to County Jail System in Wake of Inmate Deaths
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Monday released a status report on implemented, planned and ongoing improvements to its jail system, six weeks after a state review sharply censured the agency over its record of unusually frequent inmate deaths. According to the department, improvements to the local jail system are in place or underway and “align with the recommendations from the audit”.

Sexual Abuse In Corrections

East Bay Times: Opinion: Sexual abuse of women at Bay Area prison enabled by flawed federal law
Laws enacted in all 50 states criminalize sexual contact between guards and prisoners. These laws have been largely ineffective in stemming abuse. While a former chaplain at the women’s prison in Dublin CA pleaded guilty to five felony charges of sexually abusing an inmate, this was a rare occurrence. Between 2012 and 2015, less than half of the reported cases were referred for prosecution.

KTVU: Woman at center of Dublin prison sex scandal says guard used mental health files to prey on her
A woman at the center of a California prison sex scandal has come forward making an explosive new claim: Not only did a correctional officer have an inappropriate sexual relationship with her – but he also dug into her private medical records to uncover her mental frailties and then used those triggers to prey on her.

School-2-Prison Pipeline

Sentencing Project: State Action to Narrow the School to Prison Pipeline
Thanks to a $122 billion infusion of federal funds for public education included in the March 2021 American Rescue Plan, schools and communities have the opportunity to invest vast resources in effective new approaches to close the school-to-prison pipeline. The Sentencing Project has examined the plans submitted by every state for use of these federal funds.

Criminal Justice Reform

Grant Makers In Health: Less Criminalization = Better Health + More Justice
In 2019, 35,000 people were on parole in New York—and on a typical day, nearly 6,000 people were incarcerated in county jails and state prisons because they were accused of a technical parole violation. But last year, New York State passed the most sweeping parole reform measure in the country. The Less Is More Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act has far-reaching implications for the health and liberty of tens of thousands of people every year, by making critical changes in how the state handles noncriminal violations of parole conditions.

Denver ABC 7: Bill aims to divert more low-level offenders with substance or mental health issues away from jail
A 2018 Colorado state law works to divert some low-level criminal offenders away from jails and into treatment programs. Now, state lawmakers are hoping to expand the scope of the pretrial adult diversion with Senate Bill 22-010 program to divert more low-level offenders away from jail based on recommendations by the district attorney’s office.

New York Times: Push for More Restrictive Bail Law Gains a Key Ally: Gov. Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul, responding to a number of high-profile crimes that have rattled New Yorkers and to a sharp rise in gun violence during the pandemic, is privately pushing state lawmakers to change the state’s contentious bail law. Ms. Hochul wants to expand the number of crimes eligible for bail and to give judges more discretion to account for the criminal history of those accused of serious felonies. Those measures, if enacted, would roll back some of the changes made to the state’s bail law in 2019 by a reform-minded Democratic-led Legislature.

Los Angeles Times: Many Black Americans doubtful on police reform
Few Americans believe there has been significant progress over the last 50 years in achieving equal treatment for Black people in dealings with police and the criminal justice system. Most Americans across racial and ethnic groups say more progress is necessary. But Black Americans, many whom may have held hope in Democrats’ promises on racial justice initiatives in 2020, are especially pessimistic that any more progress will be made in the coming years.

Pregnancy and Criminal Justice

San Francisco Chronicle: Judge overturns conviction of woman who gave birth to stillborn child after drug use
A mother who acknowledged using drugs before she gave birth to a stillborn child was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Kings County judge in 2018 after pleading no contest to manslaughter to avoid a murder charge. Now another judge, with support from Attorney General Rob Bonta, has overturned the conviction and prison sentence, saying the crime she admitted committing is not recognized by law.

Overdoses In Corrections

WPLN: The other epidemic: Overdoses are spiking in Tennessee prisons, as deadly drugs circulate through supposedly secure facilities
As overdoses have spiked nationwide during the pandemic, they have also ravaged the facilities that are supposed to be most secure. Neither barbed wire nor X-ray screenings have kept out deadly substances. Drug deaths have jumped more than eightfold in Tennessee’s prisons in just the past two years, from six in 2019 to 49 last year. Nearly all were from the highly potent opioid fentanyl.

Times of San Diego: Drugs Detected in System of Inmate, 22, As Probe into Death at San Diego County Jail Proceeds
An investigation was under way Thursday to determine the cause of death for an inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell at the San Diego County Jail. According to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Schuck tested positive for cocaine during what was described as a “presumptive test.” However, further laboratory testing is required to confirm the result.


Crime Report: Rural Whites Face Same Barriers to Employment After Prison as Urban Blacks: Study
Returning citizens in white rural communities face the same high barriers to finding a job as African Americans in urban areas, according to a Texas Southern University study. Both groups are also similarly at high risk for recidivism as a result, the study adds. The relationship between imprisonment and unemployment is consistent across most communities.

Criminal Justice's Detrimental Impact On Mental Health

NBC: Advocacy groups reach settlement with Montana State Prison over inmate mental health
Disability Rights has reached a settlement with the state prison and Montana Department of Corrections requiring the prison now provide what advocacy groups call appropriate care, treatment and housing for incarcerated individuals with severe mental illness. Advocates say over the past eight years conditions for inmates with severe mental illness did improve gradually. However, during that time, at least 12 people at the prison died by suicide.

KHN: Long Waits for Montana State Hospital Leave Psychiatric Patients in Jail
Montana State Hospital’s forensic facility, which evaluates and treats patients in the criminal justice system, has always had a waitlist, court records show, but the pandemic has lengthened it. As a result, people have been behind bars for months on pending charges without adequate mental health treatment. Some have undergone long stretches in solitary confinement as jail staffers have struggled to respond to their needs.

Yahoo News/USA Today: This mentally ill man was pepper-sprayed, choked and hooded before dying in state prison
As Marcus Penman slammed his head against a cell door while suffering a mental health episode, not one Kentucky state prison guard tried calming him down. And no mental health care provider was called to deescalate the crisis. Instead, a 40-minute video obtained by USA TODAY showed a detention officer pepper-spray Penman three times in the face, then tase him six times – including with an electric shock that lasted 18 seconds. Corrections experts told USA TODAY that claims of medical neglect and mistreatment of the mentally ill are not only a problem in Kentucky, but are also endemic to the U.S. penal system

Mental Health Initiatives in Criminal Justice

Corrections 1: As Pa. jail returns to county control, its new warden is focused on mental health, staff training
After decades of management by one of the world's largest private prison firms, the Delaware County jail returns to local control in April. And when that happens, the George W. Hill Correctional Facility will be led by a new warden, Laura Williams, whose background in behavioral health made her the ideal choice for the new era at the beleaguered facility in Thornton. The suicides of inmates — including Janene Wallace, whose death in 2015 ended in a $7 million settlement with GEO — troubles William and underscores her commitment to better prepare corrections officers to deal with mental health issues.

Correctional Health Care Vendors Huge, controversial contract for New Orleans jail health care undecided
Wellpath, a titan in the jail and prison health care industry, says it’s too risky to switch providers as the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office tries to complete a nine-year-old reform agreement. The sole other bidder for the city-managed contract, LSU Health, says a local, public institution can do better than a for-profit company based in Nashville, Tennessee. The exact size of the contract has yet to be decided, but if the current cost remains steady over the five-year period proposed in City Hall's solicitation it would pencil out to $93 million.

PBS News Hour: Arizona’s privatized prison health care has been failing for years. A new court case could change that
Neglect that was supposed to be a thing of the past after a 2015 court settlement from a 2012 federal class action lawsuit that asserted the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) had been providing inadequate medical and mental care. In November 2021 after Judge Rosalyn O. Silver tossed the terms of the 2015 settlement and ordered a new trial. Silver stated that the prison authorities had “proffered erroneous and unreliable excuses for non-performance". Since 2012, Arizona has contracted three prison health care providers: Wexford Health, Corizon and Centurion.

FYN: The Board to Seek Bids for Inmate Health
In Lumpkin County, Georgia, he Board of Commissioners is beginning to seek bids for inmate health contracts after the current contract was raised. The current contract with CorrectHealth has gone up to $60,000 over the previous contract.CorrectHealth has agreed to a month-to-month contract while the commissioners start a bid process.