Florida’s new corrections secretary, Julie Jones, is threatening to toss out Corizon Health Services’ $1.2 billion contract with the state if they refuse to negotiate a new deal “with an eye to enhancing prescription drug delivery, mental health services and nursing care [including] requiring more registered nurses to be on hand rather than less-skilled staffers.”
The nation’s largest for-profit healthcare provider in prisons was also recently accused of withholding reports on inmate deaths from Florida state officials. According to journalists at the Palm Beach Post, Corizon is said to have even repressed medical exams that would indicate whether inmates had been injured by guards in 2013 and 2014.
Is it really worth the state’s time, money and energy to try and save this contract? Florida should just stop and take a look at Corizon’s record in other parts of the country. If they did, they would see that theirs is not an isolated case, but instead falls perfectly in line with Corizon’s pattern of abuse and misconduct in practically every prison they serve.
Just four months ago, a New York state investigation found that Corizon had routinely lied to families of deceased inmates, including in cases where they may have been responsible for the death. Their problems with understaffing nurses, neglecting patient needs and tampering with prescriptions are widespread and severe.
Corizon has been sued nearly 700 times for malpractice in the past five years. Here in Alameda County, where I live, they were just part of an $8.3 million settlement over failing to treat an inmate who later died at the jail in Santa Rita.
And it’s not just Corizon patients that are suffering; the company has mistreated and endangered its own employees, too. Corizon was sued last year in New York for putting staff at risk of violence, and they’re being sued this year for workplace discrimination in Maine.
This is just a small sampling of the bounty of criminal behavior exhibited by Corizon in the last six months. Their rap sheet is much longer than that, and as these things often go, we’re probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Yet despite all of this, Corizon does not seem to be losing any steam, and continues to scoop up lucrative new contracts and secures renewals left and right. Alabama just renewed its contract with Corizon in spite of AL.com’s pulitzer-worthy investigative journalism uncovering inhumane medical practices. In New York, Corizon played a central role in the legendary mistreatment of prisoners on Rikers Island — a role which was stunningly preserved in recent plans to bring “sweeping reform” to the city’s jails. Washington, DC just withdrew a $66 million 3-year contract with Corizon (ostensibly to give the company time to ‘get the facts out’) after raising the hackles of incarcerated families and advocates all-too familiar with their record.
So why do governments continue to cozy up to Corizon? To be honest, I can’t quite figure it out. I have been unable to discover any significant political contributions by the company yet. And after the deluge of lawsuits and fines, it’s hard to tell if Corizon is actually saving anyone money. But even if they are, the associated cost in human life is reprehensible and so obviously not worth it. The Palm Beach Post reported that “roughly 100 days after health care was handed off to the two companies* beginning in 2013, the state’s monthly inmate death count shot to a 10-year high and the number of seriously ill prisoners sent for outside hospital care plummeted.”
There are undoubtedly people behind bars in Florida that have done less harm to others than Corizon. Why, then, is all of Florida’s mercy and its capacity to grant second-chances saved for this corrupt for-profit service provider, and not for its own people?
* The other company is Wexler. Their contract is much smaller, for around $250 million. Corizon’s services account for the overwhelming majority of private medicine in Florida prisons.
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