December 16, 2014

 

Chairman Phil Mendelson

1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Suite 504

Washington, DC 20004

 

Dear Chairman Mendelson:

As you know, the D.C. Office of Contracting Procurement has awarded Corizon the new 5-year contract for health care at the D.C. Department of Corrections. The ACLU of the Nation’s Capital has serious reservations about this contract award because of Corizon’s long history of providing substandard care to prisoners across the country.

Corizon is a for-profit company that exclusively operates within correctional facilities. For-profit correctional health care is driven by profit margins which incentivize cheaper, lower quality provision of care. As a result, Corizon has been sued 660 times during the last half-decade because of horrific deaths and permanent injuries to men and women in their care.[1] The District should not voluntarily expose itself to this tremendous liability.

Privatization of essential functions in jails and prisons is deeply concerning for a variety of reasons. Private companies operating in jails and prisons, including Corizon, have been found on numerous occasions to be in violation of their contracts with the government, especially in areas of staffing and programming. For example, in recently settled state-wide litigation in Arizona challenging Corizon’s inadequate health care, litigation experts found that “Corizon’s current clinical staffing allocation is so alarmingly low that, even if all positions were filled, which is not the case, it would be impossible for the system to deliver adequate health care to the number of prisoners currently in the ADC system.”[2] The expert further found that despite already inadequate staffing levels at the time Corizon took over the Arizona health care contract, the company eliminated 30 medical service positions, including almost one third of the staff physician positions and about 15% of the RN positions.[3] In New York, Corizon was recently found to be in “willful violation” of its contract with the city because it routinely failed to provide its own employees with a safe work environment.[4] And in Alabama, it was recently disclosed that Corizon knowingly hired physicians for Alabama prisons who had previously had their medical licenses revoked due to sexual abuse of patients.[5] Yet, Corizon brought those doctors into the prison environment to treat particularly vulnerable populations.

Further, because Corizon and other private prison companies are profit-driven, their primary responsibility is to shareholders, which leads to cutting corners wherever possible. In the health care context, cutting costs usually means cutting care. An investigation in Florida found that Corizon was cutting costs by significantly reducing the number of prisoners it sent to the hospital to receive medically necessary treatment. The investigation found that hospital admissions were nearly cut in half, while prisoner deaths hit a 10-year high.[6] In Vermont, 23-year-old Ashley Ellis died two days into a thirty day sentence after Corizon (then known as Prison Health Services) failed to give her the five cent potassium pills that her heart required after a bout of severe anorexia, despite the fact that her doctor faxed her health records to the Department of Corrections two days before she reported, so as to avoid any gaps in dosage.[7]

Finally, continuity of care is particularly important in the D.C. context, in which individuals are housed in the D.C. Department of Corrections for short periods of time and often released directly back into the community. The health and safety of people housed in the D.C. Department of Corrections is an integral part of the health and safety of the communities from which they come and the communities to which they return. However, another documented cost-cutting measure by Corizon has been to limit discharge planning and re-entry services. A soon-to-be-released report by a Pennsylvania Controller found myriad deficiencies in Corizon’s health care, including a failure to provide inmates with required re-entry services, such as creating discharge plans and providing individuals with a transitional supply of medications.[8] This is absolutely unacceptable.

As long as Corizon is motivated by its bottom line, there will always be a perverse incentive not to provide treatment. The company currently makes $1.4 billion dollars a year off of sick prisoners. It would be unconscionable to support this disreputable company in providing care to one of our must vulnerable populations, our incarcerated citizens.

The ACLU-NCA strongly urges that you oppose the Corizon contract award by voting no on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.

 

Sincerely,

Monica Hopkins-Maxwell

Executive Director



[2] Confidential Report of Robert L. Cohen, M.D., Parsons v. Ryan, No. 2:12-cv-00601-NVH, at *9 (D. Ariz. Nov. 8, 2013), available at https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/Parsons%20v%20Ryan%20CohenExpertreport2013.11.08.pdf.

[3] Id. at 14.

[4] Michael Schwirtz, Rikers Health Contractor Fined for Worker Assaults, New York Times (Aug. 7, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/nyregion/rikers-health-contractor-fine...

[5] Casey Toner, Alabama prison doctors lost medical licenses following sexual contact with patients, AL.com (Sept. 16, 2014), http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/breaking_the_oath_alabama_pris.....

[6] Reconsider state’s prison health contract with Corizon, Palm Beach Post (Nov. 3, 2014) (Note: this article is behind a paywall, however the ACLU-NCA can provide you with this article and the full investigative series done by a Palm Beach Post reporter, upon request).

[7] Terry J. Allen, Part I: Dying in Cell 40: Flaws in Vermont’s Prison Medical System Were Fatal For Ashley Ellis, VTDigger (Dec. 14, 2009), http://vtdigger.org/2009/12/14/dying-in-cell-40-flaws-in-vermonts-prison....

[8] Molly Born, Controller’s audit critical of Allegheny County Jail management in infirmary, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Dec. 5, 2014), http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2014/12/05/Controller-s-audit-cri....

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