COCHS WEEKLY UPDATE: June 25, 2024


Highlighted Stories

Editor's Note
This week’s first two highlighted stories come from Oregon and Oklahoma two states that would seem to be unrelated except for the initial letter of their names, but stories about corrections often make for strange bedfellows. The connection between both articles from these disparate states, one blue, the other deep red, is the extent to which we have created a second-class category of citizenship for incarcerated individuals. The story from Oregon talks about how the state is now changing its policy of charging incarcerated individuals for medical devices they need, such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, walkers, or other assistive devices for disabled individuals (see the American Prospect article included in the April 16th Weekly Update).

Most Americans take it for granted that when one has a disability and one needs a medical device of some kind, that there is a process through which a payer, such as Medicaid, can provide for those needs if one is not privately insured. However, as the Oregon article makes clear, before this policy change, if an incarcerated person had a disability and could not afford their own assistive device, that person would be charged and if unable to pay would go without the device.

The second story comes from Oklahoma where the Attorney General of that state has announced a settlement to a federal lawsuit. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has consistently failed to provide timely and legally mandated competency restoration treatment to jail inmates. But the Governor and the Commissioner of Mental Health are refusing to abide by this settlement. This refusal will most likely mean that individuals who are decompensated and not able to understand the charges against them will remain in jail for an indefinite period of time.

Many of our subscribers may not fully understand the current health care system within corrections and how much it deprives individuals of the rights that we take for granted in the free world. Part of why COCHS has been so emphatic about bringing Medicaid within corrections is not only to create continuity of care and to end the black box that exists within these facilities, but just as importantly to create a coherent health care policy that includes patient rights across all health care settings. As the next highlighted article points out, individuals and jurisdictions, both local and statewide, have to pay a high price for the profound gaps that our criminal justice system has inadvertently fostered.

On another note, related to Medicaid, the last highlighted article is a link to the 1115 waiver Washington DC has submitted to CMS. It includes language that would allow Medicaid services for justice-involved individuals up to 90-days pre-release.

Health Care Hurdles In Corrections
OPB: Oregon Department of Corrections ends practice of charging prisoners for medical devices
The Oregon Department of Corrections will no longer force prisoners to pay hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars for medical devices, such as hearing aids and prosthetic limbs. The policy change, which came as part of a legal settlement, resulted in the agency paying back thousands of dollars to hundreds of adults in custody. Until now, if an incarcerated person needed a medical device and could not pay for it in advance, the state’s prison system would garnish their wages to recoup the cost. Prisoners typically make less than $100 per month. “There’s no insurance in prison and people don’t have any access to it,” said Thomas Zito, an attorney with the nonprofit legal firm Disability Rights Advocates, who represented people in prison in a class action lawsuit.

Oklahoma Voice: Oklahoma’s governor rejects landmark mental health competency restoration settlement
Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s commissioner of mental health oppose a proposed settlement that would settle a federal lawsuit. The settlement would guarantee timely and legally-mandated competency restoration to jail inmates. Stitt and mental health commissioner Allie Friesen said in a statement that the settlement is not in the best interest of the state or patients of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. When Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced the proposed settlement, he said that it would strengthen the justice system and allow more timely resolution of court cases. “The Attorney General is misrepresenting facts. I did not and will never agree to have Oklahomans foot the bill for a bad legal settlement,” Stitt said in the statement.

Association of Health Care Journalist: Individuals, communities face rippling health effects of incarceration
Incarceration impacts not only the health of millions of Americans who pass through U.S. prisons and jails each year, but it also exacerbates health disparities in communities. Public health researchers use incarceration as a measure of health depletion. People who have been incarcerated have higher rates of infectious diseases, mental health issues and chronic conditions compared to the general public. Research suggests that for each year a person is incarcerated, their life expectancy is reduced by as many as two years.

Washington DC
Medicaid.gov: 1115 Waiver Demonstration - D.C. Behavioral Health Transformation
The District is requesting expenditure authority to provide select services to justice-involved Medicaid beneficiaries during the ninety (90) day period prior to their return from carceral settings into the community. The services include the following: Medication Assisted Treatment, Case Management/Care Coordination, Necessary 30-day supply of medications after release, Comprehensive behavioral and physical health screenings, Counseling/Therapy, Peer Support Services, and Intensive, family-based services for youth. Additionally, the District requests the authority to enroll eligible individuals in DC Medicaid coverage and engage them in case management services before they are released from Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) custody.




Studies

JAMA: Community-Based Cluster-Randomized Trial to Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths
In 2019, amid an ever-worsening drug crisis, the federal government launched a research study with an ambitious goal: to lower opioid overdoses in participating communities by 40% using evidence-based interventions like distributing naloxone and providing access to addiction medications. But communities that implemented the public health strategies did not see a statistically significant reduction in opioid overdose deaths.

Prison Policy Initiative: 6 facts about the mass incarceration of LGBTQ+ people
LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented throughout the criminal legal system, from their high rates of juvenile justice involvement to the long sentences they often receive as adults. While little government data exists about the over-incarceration of this group, research is slowly emerging that shows how a multitude of forces push LGBTQ people into jails and prisons at highly disproportionate rates.

NIJ: Restoring Promises
A program designed to create safer, more structured lives for young people in correctional facilities is showing early promise as a flexible model for institutional reform that can reduce violence and the use of restrictive housing. Restoring Promise creates housing units grounded in human dignity for 18- to 25-year-olds in prisons and jails. Incarcerated young people in the program create and follow routines that mirror a productive life on the outside of the facility as closely as possible.




State Roundup

California
Prism: San Quentin delays and denies hepatitis C care to affected incarcerated people
Incarcerated individuals at San Quentin diagnosed with hepatitis C are experiencing delayed treatment or outright being denied treatment. As of January, California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) said a person’s release date is no longer considered for a patient’s hepatitis C treatment plan. However, this statement is not representative of the reality of incarcerated individuals at San Quentin. The majority of the residents at San Quentin who are impacted by the disease say that submitting a grievance for medical care often leads to a dead end.

ABC: 3 Sacramento County Jail inmates have died in the past month and a half. What’s going on?
Three inmates at the Sacramento County Main Jail have died within the past month and a half prompting some to ask what's going on. Sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Amar Gandhi says there’s nothing to indicate suicide or criminal intent played any role in these deaths. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office oversees the county’s two jails, but Sacramento County Adult Correctional Health (ACH) – separate from the sheriff’s office – oversees all medical care within those jails. Back in 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of incarcerated people. They claimed conditions at the jail did not meet minimum standards under the U.S. Constitution.

Colorado
Corrections 1: For first time in state history, Colo. enacts statewide jail standards
Colorado’s system of jails will soon be required to follow a minimum set of standards and hold regular inspections of its facilities under a new oversight program. A group of advocates, law enforcement officials, attorneys and experts have worked on the standards since 2022, when the legislature approved a framework to oversee the state’s more than 50 jails. The standards will be monitored by an advisory committee. Jails will be assessed for compliance at least every five years.

Pulitzer Center: At the Eagle County Jail, People in Mental Health Crises Face Fear, Trauma
The WRAP is a harness that wraps a person’s legs together and locks their torso in an upright, seated position. The Eagle County (CO) Sheriff’s Office is one of more than 1,500 authorities across the country that use the WRAP. Deputies in the jail reported using force against incarcerated people with mental health issues 18 times from 2021 through June of 2023. They used the WRAP or a restraint chair more than half of the time, restraining people for one to three hours, and regularly checked on their blood circulation. But reports show multiple instances in which the WRAP was used for over two hours without noting that the restraint was released to allow the person to move their arms and legs.

Florida
Miami Herald: Federal judge, citing inmate suicide, grills Miami-Dade officials on mental health center
With a bed sheet attached to a smoke detector, a 47-year-old man who’d been arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge committed suicide last November in a Miami-Dade County jail. He hadn’t even been in the jail 24 hours. This week, a federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Bloom, who learned of the suicide hauled county officials — including Mayor Daniella Levine Cava — into court to find out why a mental health facility that would help keep people with mental health problems out of the county jails still isn’t open. The center was proposed years ago by county criminal court Judge Steve Leifman, who took Bloom and others on the tour last November.

Georgia
Corrections 1: Ga. governor hires consultants to examine troubled state prison system
Gov. Brian Kemp announced that Georgia’s Department of Corrections would undergo an in-depth assessment to identify ways to improve the prison system. Consultants with Guidehouse Inc. will visit prisons, conduct interviews with stakeholders, work with GDC personnel and do research. An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year exposed widespread corruption in the prison system. The killing of a food service worker by an inmate who then took his own life is just one of the more startling events that have occurred within the Department of Corrections over the last several years.

Louisiana
The Lens: ‘It isn’t very clear who is responsible for the jail getting to that cap’
The Orleans Justice Center, the city’s jail, has exceeded its city-mandated population cap of 1,250. As of Wednesday (June 19th), the City Council data dashboard showed that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office had in its custody 1,322 individuals, 72 people beyond the cap set in 2019 by the council. There’s no relief in sight. New legislation that ends parole and early release in Louisiana will take effect in August, filling up more beds at the state level, which will likely cause slowdowns in transfers of newly sentenced inmates from the jail.

Michigan
CBS News: Michigan House committee passes bill that would allow terminally ill inmates out of prison
A bill that would allow medically fragile inmates out of prison in Michigan is in the home stretch before being sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for approval. The new law would allow medically fragile inmates to live out the final days of their sentence and their lives in hospice care at home.

Michigan Department of Attorney General: Former Corrections Officer Sentenced in Assault of Inmate
A former corrections officer was sentenced to one year of probation for the in-custody jailhouse assault of an Isabella County inmate. The inmate was standing just outside of the cell, video evidence shows that the corrections officer grabbed the inmate, spun him around and pushed him into the cell door before then pushing him into the wall next to the cell door. Then, after walking the inmate to the new cell, the officer pushed the inmate to the ground, where the inmate cried out in pain upon crashing to the floor.

Missouri
KCUR: Missouri prison warden replaced after inmate death investigation
The warden of Jefferson City Correctional Center, where four corrections officers were fired earlier this year following the investigation of a December death of an inmate, has been replaced. Othel Moore was 38 and being held in the Jefferson City Correctional Center when he died on the morning of Dec. 8. According to accounts, Moore was pepper sprayed, his head was covered with a hood and he was placed in restraints. He could be heard screaming that he could not breathe and inmates described seeing blood coming from his mouth and ears as he was removed from the cell.

New York
New York Times: N.Y. Prisons Have Ignored Limits on Solitary Confinement, Judge Finds
New York State prisons have been illegally holding prisoners too long in solitary confinement, despite a law that limited the practice. The decision this week from Justice Kevin R. Bryant came a year after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed the class-action case against the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, charging that prison officials had an internal policy to circumvent limits on time that prisoners can be held alone. In the order, Justice Bryant ordered the state to comply with the law’s requirement to provide findings to justify extended solitary confinement. He also found that solitary confinement rulings made according to the agency’s internal policy rather than the law “are hereby declared as null and void.”

Pennsylvania
City & State: For Pennsylvania’s aging prison population, a matter of life and death
The average age of an incarcerated individual is rising, jumping from 31 years old in 2000 to 38 years old in 2023, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Rising demographics also mean rising costs: DOC spent $59,598 on average to house a person last year. But the cost to taxpayers can skyrocket to more than $100,000 for an incarcerated person who needs regular medical attention. As the commonwealth deals with an aging population, its aging inmates – one of the largest such groups in the nation – face a harsher reality where adverse living conditions and lack of access to health care age them at a faster rate than those on the outside.

Texas
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Congressman asks feds to investigate Tarrant County Jail deaths
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat, is asking the federal government to investigate the “distressing pattern of inmate deaths and jail incidents” at the Tarrant County Jail. The request for an investigation came following reports of deaths at the jail. Since 2017, 63 inmates have died at the jail or soon after experiencing a health crisis there. In May 2023, Veasey and other Fort Worth-area Democrats called on the Justice Department to investigate Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare and other county officials over voting rights, following former Elections Administrator Heider Garcia’s resignation and the creation of an election integrity task force.

Washington State
KIRO: King County to replace correctional facility with modern jail, behavioral health center
A recent report from King County (Seattle) officials outlines plans to replace the aging King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) with a modern facility designed to better serve the current needs of inmates and the community. One of the major hurdles in the project is funding. The report stated preliminary cost estimates for a new facility exceed $1 billion. King County will likely need voter-approved bonds or levy lifts to finance the project. The envisioned facility would house fewer beds, emphasizing diversion and behavioral health treatment.

Seattle Times: WA paid $100 million over mental health delays. Here’s where it’s going
The state is now approaching compliance with a federal lawsuit. The state Department of Social and Health Services failed to comply with a court order to quickly evaluate and treat patients who were waiting for a spot at one of the state’s psychiatric hospitals. Now $100 million could soon be poured into building housing for patients recently released from Washington’s state psychiatric hospitals. New permanent supportive housing will help keep people with mental illnesses from cycling back through jails and the state hospital.

Wisconsin
WBAY: Multiple federal lawsuits filed after inmate deaths at Waupun prison
There are four federal civil lawsuits involving Waupun Correctional Institution and a request for a federal civil rights investigation. This comes after news of the arrest of the warden and eight employees at the prison after the deaths of inmates. One of the lawsuits was filed just the day before. A federal civil wrongful death lawsuit for Tyshun Lemons was filed on June 4. Cameron Williams’ lawsuit was filed on May 7th. The 24-year-old died of a stroke on October 30 of last year. Court documents say Williams asked for medical treatment 10 days before he died. It states he was “throwing up blood and was crying and begging” to go to the emergency room due to severe head pain.




Technology

NBC: Denied the 'right to hug': In many U.S. jails, video calls are the only way detainees can see loved ones
In recent years, hundreds of jurisdictions have eliminated in-person visits, making a video screen the only way detainees can see their loved ones. The financial allure of video visitation was clear to local officials when the technology was first introduced a decade ago. At the time, some predicted, “video visitation is going to work. … A lot of people will swipe that Mastercard.” Private telecommunications companies such as Securus Technologies and ViaPath (formerly Global Tel*Link) operate the systems, and county governments pocket a portion of the proceeds.




Correctional Health Care Providers

Wellpath
Santa Cruz Sentinel: Santa Cruz County jails switch medical, mental health provider with $11M contract
In the shadow of a recent Civil Grand Jury report critical of jail mental health services, Santa Cruz County officials voted this month to move its private corrections health services contract to a new provider. The nearly $11 million one-year corrections department contract for private mental, medical, dental and pharmaceutical services — a spending increase of nearly $2 million above last year’s budget — was awarded to NaphCare Inc. after a request for bids. Predecessor Wellpath LLC, formed in 2018 from a merger between Correctional Medical Group Cos. and Correct Care Solutions, has served as Santa Cruz County’s jail medical service provider since 2012.

Record Searchlight: Shasta County Sheriff's Office criticized for lax staph infection control at the jail
The Shasta County Sheriff's Office and the company hired to provide medical treatment at the county jail are not taking proper precautions to prevent and treat MRSA skin infections among inmates and staff who work there, according to the county grand jury. The grand jury issued a report this week that says Wellpath, the company hired to provide medical treatment at the jail, has not been properly screening people brought to the jail for MRSA, a staph skin infection.

Searchlight New Mexico: An inmate went on a hunger strike. So the jail shut off his tap.
For three days last year, as the outside temperature reached 90 degrees, Bryan Harris was deprived of drinking water. Harris, who’d been locked up in the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on drug charges, had complained for months about persistent stomach pain. He declared a hunger strike, hoping that would get someone’s attention. The response was almost immediate: Jail authorities turned off the tap in his cell and deprived him of water for the next three days. According to the sheriff’s report, the shut-off was instigated by a traveling nurse then employed by Wellpath, the nation’s largest for-profit health care provider for prisons and jails.

KUOW: She died in a New York jail. Her family still has questions, alleges medical neglect
Niki Capaci died last year at age 40 while incarcerated at the Orange County Jail in Goshen, New York. Her family wants to know What exactly happened between May 3, 2023, when Capaci was first incarcerated, and the early morning of May 6, 2023, when she was found unresponsive in her cell and was later pronounced dead? The family is suing Orange County and the jail's health care provider, Wellpath, in federal court for damages for personal injuries, pain and suffering, emotional distress, wrongful death and economic damages.

IndyStar: Marion County sheriff, contractor forced drug injections on mentally ill woman, suit says
After Adilah Patton's most recent trespassing arrest in 2022, jailers in the Marion County Adult Detention Center held Patton down while a nurse injected her with an antipsychotic drug. A federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges the sheriff's office and its healthcare contractor, Wellpath, violated the 28-year-old woman's constitutional rights by injecting her with drugs on multiple occasions against her will and without permission from her court-appointed guardian.

Spectrum: Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office responds to rising inmate suicide attempts
Concerns are growing with the number of suicide attempts in the Mecklenburg County Detention Center (NC). There have been 15 incidents this year alone, just four short of the total attempts reported for 2023. A lawsuit alleges negligence from the sheriff and health care provider Wellpath, which terminated its contract with the jail in May. VitalCore Health Strategies has since taken over health care services in the jail.

Missoula Current: Missoula County signs new healthcare contract for local, state inmates
Missoula County signed the 5-year contract with Wellpath. The firm has served as the county's previous provider. While the services provide care to county inmates, it also provides care to state inmates held at the county jail. The cost to the county of holding those state inmates has been an issue for years, as the state doesn't reimburse the county the full daily cost of incarceration.

Centurion
KCUR: Missouri prison health care conditions have gotten deadly, reform group alleges
As of May 30, there have been 66 deaths this year in Missouri Department of Corrections facilities. Advocates think many of these deaths could’ve been avoided if residents were treated sooner, or at all. Erin Brown, a former nurse for Centurion, the current medical provider of the Missouri Department of Corrections said she left because of poor working conditions. In the last weekend she worked, she said she had to care for more than 20 patients alone in the infirmary. Part of the fault is on Centurion for having inexperienced management and not caring enough about staff and prison residents.

Naphcare
Dayton Daily News: ‘Clearly there’s a problem:’ Montgomery County ADAMHS puts a pause on fund transfer to jail
Nearly $1 million of human services levy funding for behavioral health services at the Montgomery County Jail is on hold after a Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board member voiced concerns about the level of care NaphCare provides. There have been concerns from the community over jail deaths.