COCHS WEEKLY UPDATE: July 02, 2024


Highlighted Stories

Editor's Note
This week's highlighted stories come from across the country. There are articles from California, Texas, and North Carolina. A common theme running through all these articles is the role of courts in trying to protect incarcerated individuals with severe behavioral health disorders and the general resistance of correctional officials to abide by the role of the courts in protecting these vulnerable individuals.

While it is often assumed that courts are the most effective way to create change in how correctional systems deliver health care, a casual scanning of the highlighted stories will most likely cast doubt on this strategy. Now with the possibility of 1115 waivers changing the designation of people as just “inmates” into “Medicaid beneficiaries,” we might begin to see a modified role for courts to meaningfully enforce due process rights. However, it remains to be seen how correctional officials might respond to the legal protections provided through Medicaid coverage.

News Medical Life Sciences: US judge finds California in contempt over prison mental health staffing
A federal judge has found top California prison officials in civil contempt for failing to hire enough mental health professionals to adequately treat tens of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental disorders. Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller ordered the state to pay $112 million in fines. The fines have been accumulating since April 2023, after Mueller said she was fed up with the state prison system's inadequate staffing despite years of court orders demanding that the state address the issue.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Tarrant sheriff addresses ‘misinformation’ about inmate with developmental disability
Kai’Yere Campbell a 21-year-old with the mental capacity of a child had been in the Tarrant County jail since December on assault charges, but was finally transferred to a state supported living center June. Campbell’s situation was brought to the public’s attention when advocates urged for his release at a Commissioners Court session. When asked why Campbell had not been transferred to a mental health facility per a court order from February, spokesperson Robbie Hoy of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office replied, “There has to be a facility available that will take him and as of right now, there isn’t one.”

Carolina Journal: Federal suit claims mentally ill languish in NC county jails
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services opposes an injunction in a federal lawsuit targeting mental health services for inmates in county jails. The suit labels the situation a “statewide crisis.” “At present, the demand for ITP assessment (ability to proceed to trial) and restoration treatment greatly exceeds the available supply in North Carolina,” state Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing. Because of long wait times, some “detainees spend more time in pretrial detention awaiting a capacity assessment and subsequent treatment than they ever would receive as a sentence if convicted.” The number of state beds for mental health treatment has dropped from 892 to 453 in the last seven years.




Opioid Epidemic

CDC: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder: Population Estimates
This study highlights gaps in medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid use disorder (OUD). According to the study, of the nearly 4 percent of U.S. adults who needed treatment in 2022, only approximately 25 percent received medication. Most adults who needed OUD treatment either did not perceive that they needed it (42.7%) or received OUD treatment without medications for OUD (30.0%).

The Express: Centre Jail seeks expansion of drug treatment program
The Centre County (PA) Office of Criminal Justice Planning requested, and received, approval from county commissioners for two grant-related motions supporting funding for medication-assisted drug treatment for inmates at the Centre County Correctional Facility. The money however is only eligible for the purchase of Vivitrol (Naltrexone), a drug which blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids like heroin and morphine by binding to and blocking opioid receptors with the ultimate goal of suppressing opioid cravings. Other drugs like suboxone or methadone, which are also used in medicated assisted treatment programs, cannot be acquired with these funds.




Reentry

NASHP/HARP: Seven States Selected to Participate in NASHP and HARP’s State Reentry Learning Collaborative
The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP), in collaboration with The Health and Reentry Project (HARP) is announcing the following seven states have been selected to participate in the State Reentry Learning Collaborative, a multi-state technical assistance opportunity to support states seeking to implement Medicaid reentry waivers: California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.




Juveniles

New York Times: Five Charged With Smuggling Contraband Into Youth Lockup Awash in Knives
Five current and former employees at a city-run juvenile detention center in Brooklyn were arrested by federal officials on Wednesday on charges that they had accepted bribes to smuggle in a tidal wave of illicit substances, razor blades and scalpels. All five were “youth development specialists” employed by the Administration for Children’s Services at Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brownsville. Crossroads is one of two “secure detention” facilities for youth who have been accused of serious crimes or who pose “the highest risk”.

Spectrum: Staff member in critical condition after fight at Wisconsin youth prison
A staff member at Wisconsin’s youth prison was in critical condition Tuesday following a fight with an inmate, state Department of Corrections officials said. The fight happened at the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake Schools, the state's youth prison in Irma in northern Wisconsin. Department of Corrections spokesperson said a 16-year-old inmate assaulted a staff member in a residence hall and then attacked a second staff member. Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake is Wisconsin's only youth prison. The facility has been plagued by allegations of staff-on-inmate abuse, including excessive use of pepper spray, restraints and strip searches.




Data & Statistics

CCJ: Better Crime Data, Better Crime Policy
CCJ’s Crime Trends Working Group has released recommendations to strengthen the nation’s crime data infrastructure and better equip policymakers with timely, accurate, and usable data essential to effectively address community violence and other crime. Although there are recent improvements, national crime data fall short of what the country needs to sufficiently understand, control, and prevent crime.




Correctional Officers

WSIU: SIU Researchers Find Prison Guards Suffer PTSD and Other Issues but Get Little Help
Southern Illinois University Carbondale's research highlights severe mental health challenges among correctional officers in the United States. Chronic high stress, long and difficult shifts, and elevated anxiety are constant components of correctional officers’ jobs, leading to higher rates of PTSD than military veterans. About 34% of the officers in the study reported suffering from PTSD, compared to 14% of military veterans and 7% of the general public. Additionally, correctional officers face a suicide rate that is 40% higher than the rest of the working-age population.




Heatwave

Capital B: The Growing Crisis of Heatwave Deaths in America’s Prisons
Over the past two decades, nearly 13,000 people have perished behind bars during America’s summer months. However, many of these deaths are not typically attributed to heat, the product of poor death-counting practices that have led to an undercount of heat-related deaths for decades. Still, deaths have only become more commonplace as heat waves have spread across the country in record numbers over the past several years, disproportionately harming Black people on both sides of the bars.




State Roundup

California
San Francisco Chronicle: COVID outbreak at S.F. jails sickens dozens
At least 42 people were sickened with COVID-19 at San Francisco jails, officials said. The largest number of coronavirus infections were reported at the city’s jail in San Bruno, which houses the largest population of incarcerated people in the city’s system.

Press Democrat: Chronic problems at the county jail
A new grand jury report fittingly titled “Déjà Vu All Over Again” captures the seemingly perpetual challenges of the Sonoma County Jail. The grand jury’s list of particulars includes a growing proportion of inmates suffering from mental health problems — now half of the jail’s population — exacerbated by isolation during protracted lockdowns and inadequate health care. The jail, meanwhile, is short-staffed, with deleterious effects for inmates and correctional officers alike, and the county put off construction of a specialized wing to house and treat inmates suffering mental illness — a facility recommended two decades ago in a previous grand jury report.

Illinois
WGN9: 11 employees reassigned after Cook County Jail detainee dies
Eleven Cook County Sheriff’s Office employees have been reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation into the death of an inmate following what officials said was a medical emergency. In a statement, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said “there was a struggle in the emergency room as staff were escorting him there to be seen by medical staff for evaluation.” The Cook County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force to conduct an independent investigation, per protocol.

Missouri
Washington Post: 4 Missouri prison guards charged with murder, and a fifth with manslaughter, in death of Black man
Four Missouri prison guards were charged with murder, and a fifth with accessory to involuntary manslaughter, in the December death of a Black man who was pepper sprayed, had his face covered with a mask and was left in a position that caused him to suffocate while in custody at a correctional facility. Detectives said multiple officers heard Othel Moore crying out for help after the mask was put on, and one heard Moore say he has asthma.

Oklahoma
OKCFox: Oklahoma jail fails to meet standards after denying entry to health inspectors
The Oklahoma County Detention Center did not meet inspection standards earlier this week because the facility staff refused to let inspectors inside. The Oklahoma State Department of Health tried to conduct an unannounced annual inspection on Tuesday, June 25. According to Oklahoma Title 74, State Department of Health inspectors must be permitted to enter all jails.




Rikers Island

New York Times: A Rikers Detainee Made a Daring Escape. The Getaway Car? A City Bus.
Some jailbreaks require elaborate planning. Others demand feats of strength or agility. Few have relied on the New York City bus system. But that system unwittingly supplied the getaway vehicle when a Rikers Island detainee made a break for it outside Bellevue Hospital Center. The detainee climbed a median, dashed across several lanes of traffic on the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and boarded a city bus to make good his escape.




Prison Telecommunication

Benton Institute: Prison Phone Rates Set for Drastic Reduction Under New FCC Rules
The FCC has proposed new rules to reduce phone and video call rates for incarcerated people, a move that could reshape the business of prison telecom providers such as ViaPath Technologies and Aventiv Technologies. The proposed rules call for a reduction in the cost of audio calls, impose brand-new caps on video services and prohibit providers from making commission payments to the jails and prisons in which they operate. The prospect of stricter regulation has been a major overhang for the industry. Bipartisan legislation that President Joe Biden signed into law in early 2023 gave the FCC broader authority to regulate the cost of audio and video communication services that are offered to inmates.




Correctional Health Care Vendors

Wellpath
Santa Barbara Independent: How Much Have Taxpayers Overpaid Santa Barbara County’s Jail Health-Care Contractor?
Every three months or so, the county supervisors host a carefully curated food fight with Sheriff Bill Brown over operations of Santa Barbara County’s two major jails. The supervisores wantto know how much money the county was owed by Wellpath — the private contractor providing jail health services — because the company failed to provide the level of staffing called for in its $13-million-a-year contract with the County of Santa Barbara, as reported by last year’s grand jury. The supervisors and county’s administrative staff have long made clear their seething impatience with Wellpath. The problem, they discovered, is that a small handful of companies dominate the prison health care field, and Wellpath faces no credible private competition.

Santa Maria Sun: County amends Wellpath contract for improved accountability, greater staffing levels
Additional nursing and behavioral health staff, accountability measures, and continued compliance with a legal settlement surrounding jail health care are some of the amended measures baked into Santa Barbara County’s contract extension with jail health care provider Wellpath. In 2023, the Santa Barbara County grand jury highlighted deficiencies for the county and the company when providing behavioral health care in the jail system, like staffing shortages leaving gaps in mental health coverage and inadequate communication between agencies regarding an inmate’s mental illness history.

Press Democrat: Grand jury report criticizes conditions and mental health care in Sonoma County jail
Chronic understaffing, inmates’ prolonged confinement to cells, and insufficient medical care and substance abuse treatment, among other issues, have left the Sonoma County jail ill-equipped to manage and care for its population, a civil grand jury report has found. Wellpath, the jail’s contracted medical care provider, too, has come under fire for failing to staff the Sonoma County facility with the workers necessary to provide adequate health services. The for-profit company, the country’s largest private health services provider in prisons and jails, faces more than 1,000 lawsuits and a number of federal investigations nationwide over its alleged failures to meet standards of care.

Westfair Business Journal: Jail death blamed on Orange County and medical vendor
The sister of a Middletown woman who died in the Orange County jail last year has accused a medical vendor of medical malpractice. Layla Capaci claims that Wellpath NY and Orange County corrections officers ignored critical information about inmate Niki Capaci and failed to give her appropriate medical treatment, in a complaint filed on June 17 in U.S. District Court, White Plains.

Bay State Banner: Mass. state prison health care scrutinized
The Massachusetts Department of Corrections last month announced a new contractor to provide health care services in state prisons, as care and mortality in prisons has received increased scrutiny in recent years. The contract, with Kansas-based VitalCore Health Strategies, comes as the DOC’s agreement with Wellpath. Wellpath, whose agreement goes to the end of this month, has faced concerns that it was failing to provide adequate care to individuals incarcerated in the state, with delayed or denied care, inadequate staffing and failure to following physician treatment plans.

GPB: Georgia prisons will soon have a new healthcare provider after contract was brought into question
A Fulton County Judge dismissed a case against the state of Georgia that put into question the legality of a contract for a new health care provider in the state’s prisons. The Georgia Department of Corrections' new contract with Centurion Health will go into effect July 1. In a complaint, Wellpath alleged it didn’t get a fair chance to negotiate a new contract with the Georgia Department of Corrections before the agency signed a $2.4 billion deal with Centurion.



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