Arkansas — (AP) The state Department of Corrections began 2022 with a statewide lockdown of prisons due to rising COVID-19 cases among prisoners and staff. Arkansas reported its highest one-day count of new infections (4,978) since the pandemic began. Almost one in five tests has been positive. The state plans to employ its National Guard to help distribute 1.5 million test kits in public places.
- Colorado — (The Hill) Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order on Dec. 30 pardoning 1,351 convicted for minor marijuana possession crimes. The state passed a law in 2021 that legalized possession of up to two ounces of marijuana by residents over the age of 21. “Adults can legally possess marijuana in Colorado, just as they can beer or wine,” said Polis. “It’s unfair that 1,351 additional Coloradans had permanent blemishes on their record that interfered with employment, credit, and gun ownership, but today we have fixed that by pardoning their possession of small amounts of marijuana that occurred during the failed prohibition era.”
- Hawaii — (AP) State Sen. Kurt Fevella made an unannounced visit to the Halawa Correctional Facility in November after hearing complaints from prison guards of unsafe conditions. Hawaii News Now reported that the senator counted 58 guards instead of the 91 that were supposed to be on duty on the day of his visit. More than 100 of the 332 positions at the facility are either vacant or taken by staff on leave. Some guards are working 16-hour shifts. The shortage is impacting inmate church, visits and exercise programs. Fevella said that prisoners are challenging guards because they know that they are tired and lack backup.
- Alabama — (AP) Jeff Dunn stepped down as the state’s corrections commissioner at the end of 2021. Gov. Kay Ivey appointed John Hamm, previously deputy secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, to take Dunn’s spot. Alabama’s prison system faces a Justice Department lawsuit because of the conditions in its facilities. Dunn took the position heading the already troubled system in 2015. He sought funding for hiring and retention of corrections officers and prison construction. However, the system’s problems persisted during his tenure. The Justice Department suit alleges that Alabama’s prisons are among the most dangerous in the nation and that state officials have been deliberately indifferent to the situation.
- Utah — (AP) “Systemic deficiencies” in the state’s prison healthcare system are resulting in instances of inappropriate and inadequate patient care, said an audit by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General. The findings included HIPAA violations, delayed care of medically vulnerable prisoners, noncompliance with mental health assessments, and improper disposal of medicines, medical equipment, and personal information. Audit manager Brian Dean cited inadequate supervision of personnel on multiple levels as the main cause of the deficiencies. Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, was among lawmakers who heard the auditor’s report. He read an email from Wendy Parmley, director of medical and mental health issues for Utah Prisoner Advocate Network, describing an inmate’s situation. “Mr. Herbert is a double amputee. Let’s see, no wheelchair or shower chair for a double amputee below the knees, requiring him to crawl around on the stumps, including in the shower, puts him at risk for infection or an injury,” read Schultz.
- Connecticut — (AP) In-person visits were suspended at all of the state’s prisons effective Nov. 30 due to rising COVID-19 cases. Video visits were available as an alternative. “Our hope is this will be a temporary situation,” said Karen Martucci, spokesperson for the Connecticut Department of Correction. The state’s positive test rate topped 5%, a threshold the department had previously established, triggering the move.