Florida Awards $1.2 Billion Contract To Deadly Prison Healthcare Provider
Under the leadership of Republican Governor Rick Scott and a GOP-controlled legislature, Florida has embarked on a massive push for the privatization of prison healthcare services.
Most recently, the Florida Department of Corrections awarded a $1.2 billion, five-year contract to Corizon, a Tennessee-based prison healthcare provider that began serving 41 correctional facilities in August. This comes on top of a $240 million, five-year contract awarded to Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources late last year to provide medical services to state inmates at nine South Florida facilities.
But it appears the DOC never asked the companies bidding on its contracts to disclose their litigation histories, which is standard procedure in contract bidding.
Had they done so, they would have discovered that Corizon has been sued 660 times for malpractice in the last five years alone. A Miami Herald investigation found that, “Nearly half of those cases remain open. Of those that are closed, 91 — one in four — ended with confidential settlements that Corizon declined to discuss.”
Corizon is being investigated and sued in states all around the country for abuses ranging from medical negligence on a massive scale in Idaho to a minority-contracting scam in Philadelphia. Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether of not this would have impacted Florida’s decision. After all, the Idaho Department of Corrections renewed its contract with Corizon despite having ordered an investigation into the company, the results of which were so damning the Idaho DOC sealed the report from the public, saying it amounts to libel against the company.
Fortunately, Corizon has been booted from some states, but only to be replaced by equally abusive private prison healthcare providers. The problem is that the debate over private prison healthcare is framed as “which company is cheaper and less abusive?” rather than the far more important question, “Is it wise to hire for-profit companies, whose purpose to increase their bottom line, to provide medical services to prisoners.”
Wexford is no better. “Wexford was hit with 1,092 malpractice claims — suits, notices of intent to sue and letters from aggrieved inmates from Jan. 1, 2008, through 2012,” reports the Herald. “Records say Wexford settled 34 of 610 closed matters for a total of $5.4 million, as well as another case that ended in a $270,000 jury verdict against the company.”
Corizon’s rivals, such as Correctional Medical Care—New York’s largest prison healthcare provider—haven’t been around as long, but they too have been implicated in inmate deaths and corruption scandals around the country. Thanks to CMC’s negligent care, what was supposed to be a three-month sentence in New York’s Monroe County Jail for drug use ended in an excruciating death for 60-year-old Joaquin Rodriguez, a diabetic truck driver.
It’s easy to overlook the severity of these abuses, until you realize that actual human beings, like Rodriguez, pay the price. The Herald details the case of 24-year-old Brett Fields, who was nearly paralyzed under the negligent care of Corizon:
Fields was sent to the Lee County Jail on July 6, 2007, after being convicted of two misdemeanors. He was healthy, except for a bump “about half the size of a tennis ball” on his left arm — the result of a spider bite, the court records say.
On Aug. 6, after a month of sporadic, ineffective and “lax” treatment by Corizon staff, Fields “felt his back go sore and numb.” The next day, his legs began to twitch uncontrollably, with the pain becoming unbearable after midnight on Aug. 8, records say.
Fields could no longer walk by the time he saw a physician’s assistant about 9 a.m. Fields was given Tylenol and returned to his cell.
Early on Aug. 9, Fields “felt his intestines escaping from his rectum.” Fellow inmates begged Corizon’s staff to take him to the hospital. Instead, nurse Bettie Joyce Allen “obtained some K-Y Jelly, and pushed the intestines back in,” the records say. Hours later, at a local hospital, doctors found an abscess compressing his spine.
Though little research has been done on the implications of privatizing prison healthcare, at least one 2007 study by economists at the University of California Santa Barbara found that a 20 percent increase in medical-care privatization increases inmate deaths by 2 percent. A 2009 study by the same authors found that prison deaths increase by 1.3 percent for every 13 percent increase in medical care privatization.
As for cost savings, a 2009 meta-analysis in Research On Social Work Practice concluded, “Cost savings from privatizing prisons are not guaranteed and appear minimal.” Furthermore, “Quality of confinement is similar across privately and publicly managed systems, with publicly managed prisons delivering slightly better skills training and having slightly fewer inmate grievances,” a chilling reminder that even government run prison healthcare is lacking.
With profit margins at stake, it should come as no surprise that companies cut corners, even if it means people might die in the process. Yet our leaders continue to let companies profit off of this nation’s insatiable appetite for caging its citizens.
Be sure to check out the ongoing Prison Profiteers series, a collaboration between the ACLU, Beyond Bars and The Nation that profiles the companies and people profiting off of mass incarceration. Their upcoming video explores Corizon.