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Articles by Jayson Hawkins

Can the Pandemic Undermine Mass Incarceration?

The direction of public policy in massive bureaucratic states tends to create an almost inexorable momentum all on its own, and that momentum often overwhelms not only the conditions that created the policy but also the public welfare it purportedly serves. It is extraordinarily difficult to break this type of momentum, and public figures and political movements have both been known to dash themselves to pieces against the faceless wall of longstanding policy. American mass incarceration is this type of policy. What began as a response to public concerns about violent crime has grown over the decades into a complex web of entrenched interests that seem immune to all attempts at reform.

Historically speaking, established bureaucracies tend to be more vulnerable to sudden shocks than gradual change, with war, natural disasters, or financial crises often providing the impetus for reform. Activists who have been pushing for criminal justice reform believe that the systemic stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might provide a sufficiently large shock to generate change, and there is growing evidence that their hopes might not be in vain, as discussed in an article by Sarah Stillman in the May 25, 2020 issue of The ...

Ohio Jails Under Investigation

Governor Mike DeWine admitted back in June 2019 that the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) standards were outdated and did not reflect societal changes. “Look, running a jail today is very different than it was 50 years ago or 25 years ago. With the massive amount of people that have a mental health problem or who have substance abuse problem in our county jails, they are under tremendous pressure,” he said.

The 2020 reports said the DRC had tripled the staff of jail inspectors from three to nine and would begin top-to-bottom annual inspections of its facilities. Ohio’s administrative code also was altered to include surprise inspections and mandated that critical incidents such as use-of-force and suicides be reported. The period from May to December of 2019 recorded 25 escapes, 21 deaths, 16 suicides (as well as two more attempts considered “serious”), three charges of sexual misconduct and three fires.

The changes in DRC policy follow 15 federal lawsuits ...

Colorado Explores Ending Private Prisons

“I believe that profit should never be a motive in the prison industrv,’’ said Rep. Leslie Herod, the Denver Democrat who co-sponsored the bill.

Support for the legislation was split along party lines, but the bill was approved in the House and Senate. Resistance from Republicans has been based on the economic impact that closing the state’s three private prisons will have on the small towns where they are located.

“I don’t know why there is a bill here to target rural Colorado in such a detrimental way as this bill does,” said Rep. Rod Pelton, whose eastern district houses a correctional facility owned by CoreCivic that had been scheduled to reopen.

Other counties in the southeastern part of the state reported that their local private prisons accounted for 25 percent to 50 percent of their tax base. Herod said the study funded by her bill would take those ...

Study Shows Solitary Confinement Poses Mortality Risk After Release

Now, a study published February 1, 2020 in The Lancet public health journal by Cornell professor Christopher Wildeman and Lars Andersen of Denmark’s ROCKWOOL Foundation has documented a link between being placed in solitary confinement and a significant increase in prisoner death rates within five years of release.

The authors set out to discover if they could find a link between solitary confinement among Danish prisoners and post-release mortality. For their study, they gathered data from Danish government sources on all 13,776 people who had been incarcerated for seven days or longer in the period stretching from 2006-2011.

They sorted these individuals into two groups — those who had spent at least 72 hours in solitary confinement during their incarceration and those who had not. The study tracked mortality rates among both ...

New Law in Maryland Reveals Pathetic Prison Wages

Wages for prisoners at the DOC vary from $0.90 to $2.75 per day, according to position and skill level. MCE’s 1,500 prisoner laborers receive between 17 cents and $1.16 an hour.

Maryland spends more than $5 million a year to pay for DOC prisoner labor. Wages for MCE workers add another $2.68 million. Meanwhile, the program brought in $52 million last year from the sale of products ranging from furniture and flags to stationery and license plates.

The move by lawmakers to publish prison wages was also seen as a window into the job skills offered during incarceration and how or if those skills would be useful after release. An earlier version of the bill also called for transparency on the costs that prisoners pay for commissary items, but that failed to pass.

The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts, reports ...

Delaware Changes Prison Health Care Provider Due to Lawsuits Against Prior Contract Holder

by Jayson Hawkins

March 2020 brought sweeping changes to the way people lived and worked as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country. Prisons, where social distancing was often difficult or impossible to practice, proved especially vulnerable to COVID-19, yet the Delaware Department of Correction pushed ahead with a switch to a new health-care provider. Centurion of Delaware LLC accepted responsibility for the medical and behavioral health care of the state’s prisoners effective April 1.

“It’s tough enough to transition to a new medical and behavioral health [provider] in 30 days,” commented Claire DeMatteis, Delaware DOC commissioner, “but doing so in the middle of a health pandemic is remarkable.”

The sudden switch reflects a loss of confidence in the state’s previous provider, Connections Community Support Programs, which agreed to void its annual $60 million contract three months ahead of schedule. Connections was facing lawsuits from two hospital systems after amassing nearly $10 million in unpaid bills for services provided to Delaware prisoners. Connections was also under investigation by the state Justice Department.

Jason Miller, spokesman for the Delaware DOC, said ample preparation and planning had taken place over March for the change in providers to proceed despite ...

Former Prisoners Shut Out of Coronavirus Loans

The first phase of economic relief stemming from the COVID-19 crisis included $350 billion in loans aimed at keeping U.S. small businesses afloat. The CARES Act, as approved by Congress, offered hope of surviving the pandemic to any business with fewer than 500 employees.

The Small Business Administration (SBA), which was tasked with distributing the loans, included a provision that seemed to target a specific demographic. A question on the loan application asked if any of the owners of the business had been convicted of a crime.

No statistics were available as to the number of small-business owners with criminal histories, but because individuals with past felonies are barred from many jobs it is common for them to open their own business. The SBA reports over 30 million small businesses nationwide, and with The Sentencing Project estimating that up to 100 million people in the U.S. have past convictions or arrests, the portion of business owners who have been entangled in the criminal justice system is believed to be significant.

Under previous administrations, the SBA had taken into account criminal convictions of those applying for loans, and the banks that distribute loans do regular background checks on ...

Former Missouri Jail Prisoner Ordered to Repay $1.3 Million Settlement for Faking Injuries But Whereabouts Unknown

On October 17, 2019 a former Missouri prisoner accused of faking injuries while in Boone County Jail was ordered to repay almost $1.3 million from a settlement in which he had accused deputies of using excessive force.

In October 2015, after an altercation in the dinner line at the jail, Derrick Houston was restrained by four deputies and placed in solitary. When Houston felt neck pain and tingling discomfort throughout his body, his requests for medical attention were repeatedly denied by the jailers. Five days later, after his condition worsened, he was finally taken to the hospital where doctors discovered that Houston had a fractured vertebrae in his neck.

Houston filed suit in July 2016, claiming that the lack of medical attention caused permanent paralysis from the waist down. While confined to a wheelchair, Houston testified at a deposition in March 2017 that he wanted to stand up and walk, saying, “I wish I could. I really wish I could man.”

Boone County Sheriff Dewayne Casey denied that his deputies were responsible. Carey stated that jailers reported Houston fell down in solitary; he also noted that Houston had a history of resisting commands and had spent time in ...

Artificial Intelligence for Surveillance Spreading to Prisons Around the Globe

Artificial Intelligence, long thought to be the wave of the future, has become a present reality in prisons around the globe. Facilities in Hong Kong and China have already established themselves on the cutting edge of “smart” incarceration.

The former has outfitted prisoners with wristbands similar to ...

Opioid Epidemic Keeps Climbing at California Prisons, and Claiming Lives of Released Prisoners as Well

With opioid overdoses claiming the lives of over 68,000 Americans annually, detention facilities have reported a corresponding rise in drug-related deaths among those incarcerated or recently released. (See PLN, September 2019, p. 1.) California’s nearly three dozen penal institutions recorded 997 overdoses in 2018, more than ...