For years, the nation’s largest for-profit prison healthcare provider — Corizon Health Services, Inc. — has repeatedly won lucrative government contracts despite numerous appalling reports and hundreds of lawsuits for inmate abuse and employee misconduct.
But with the possibility of a federal intervention looming over their heads, NYC officials are considering revoking their contract with Corizon. The AP reports that anonymous leaks from the de Blasio administration claim the city drawing up plans to replace its private contract with a public or non-profit healthcare model.
It’s too early to tell if this is a politically motivated response, or if there actually is a forthcoming plan to improve policy and conditions on the island. But if the city shows Corizon the door, it could be the the latest in a string of stinging defeats for the company, which recently lost more than $1 billion in contracts with Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
I would enthusiastically applaud ending Corizon’s contract at Rikers. In fact, I think more prison systems would benefit by abandoning their privatization schemes altogether, and providing the kinds of basic care and treatment prisoners are entitled to receive. Doing so would have likely saved the lives of countless prisoners, like Bradley Ballard and Carlos Mercado.
The real problem, however, is evident in that an estimated 40% of inmates at Rikers suffer from mental illness. While it’s important to have trained, accessibly medical professionals available to them, there’s no getting around the fact that the prison environment itself is harmful to their wellbeing. They would undoubtedly be better off diverted from the prison system entirely, rather than left to languish in solitary cells at a place like Rikers.
The same goes for children. We have ample research demonstrating that imprisoning children is wrong and harmful on many different levels. It interferes with their development, contributes to mental illness and turns otherwise innocent kids into criminals from their exposure to the toxic environment of prison.
NYC residents pay many times more than what it costs other cities of a similar size to house prisoners, and the end results show it’s just not worth it. 85% of that money is spent on personnel alone — and unlike other prison systems where understaffing has been a leading contributor to violence, Rikers has more than enough guards. The island has a quality, not quantity, problem.
Mayor de Blasio should know it’s a no-brainer to cancel this contract and transition the prison’s healthcare to a different, better model. But he shouldn’t stop there, either.