Prison News Round-up for Oct. 28, 2014

There are far too many stories out there that I want to write about, but I just don’t have the time to fully cover them. So occasionally I’ll be posting a collection of important stories from around the country with some thoughts and notes where appropriate.

This week:

1. Vermont Lawmakers Quiz the State’s Private Prison Company
2. Lawsuit accuses Aurora private prison of paying immigrants $1 a day
3. Meet the controversial private prison corporation, Geo Care, that may run Terrell State Hospital
4. Prison panel suggests broader menu, more recreation for inmates at Ohio facility
5. Pope Francis blasts life sentences as ‘hidden death penalty’
6. 19-year-old dies naked on cell floor of gangrene; lawsuits target deaths in Madison County jail
7. Senators ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Plans to Detain More Immigrant Women and Children
8. Virginia prison system faces $45 million shortfall in inmate health care
9. 10-Year-Old Murder Defendant Shows Failure of U.S. Juvenile Justice System

Here’s my take on these stories… Continue reading


Corizon Lied to Families of Deceased Rikers Island Inmates

Corizon Health Services, inc. (formerly known as Prison Health Services, Inc.) routinely lied to families of deceased Rikers Island inmates about their cause of death — including incidents for which the company may have been responsible.

A spokesperson for Corizon told reporters that the death investigations were not technically kept secret from the families because they were always available through public records requests– an extremely difficult and time consuming process that not only forms an unnecessary obstacle to obtaining information they have the right to possess, but also ignores the fact that the families didn’t know there were investigations in the first place. How could they request documents for an investigation they didn’t know existed?

Meanwhile, as internal reports showed the company was regularly failing in its duty to care for inmates, Corizon continued to win contracts and make a profit selling taxpayers a terrible service: Continue reading

Rikers Island

Why Does Corizon Still Have a Contract for Rikers Island?

Two new lawsuits, filed by the relatives of deceased Rikers inmates, point to more atrocious conduct by employees of Corizon Health Services, Inc. Yet, despite their growing rap sheet, few have spoken out to demand the DOC end its contract with the troubled for-profit health care contractor.

Rikers has come under increased scrutiny since July, when the New York Times covered the violent conditions facing mentally ill inmates who are routinely brutalized by guards and neglected by Corizon’s medical personnel. The US Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York also released a report detailing staggering violence by prison staff against juvenile inmates. The Department of Labor fined Corizon $71,000 for failing to protect employees from workplace violence, too.

Around that time, the family of 19-year old Rikers inmate, Andy Henriquez, sued Corizon after he died a slow and agonizing death in an isolation unit from a tear in his aorta. According to the lawsuit, when a doctor finally came to his cell just before his death, he gave Henriquez a prescription for hand cream under the wrong name.

On both sides of the prison walls, Rikers inmates’ calls for help have been met with a resounding and deadly silence. Aside from a weak bill that increases oversight for solitary while doing little-to-nothing to curb its use, there hasn’t been a single, consequential policy change on the island, or much of an effort to hold the DOC accountable for the deplorable conditions they’ve harbored there for so many years. There have been virtually no consequences for the corrections officers who routinely beat juvenile and mentally ill inmates, and no reassessment of its medical programs after Corizon employees repeatedly endangered — and in some cases, killed — the prisoners it was hired to help.

If lawmakers and the public need more disturbing, gruesome stories to understand the need for change, they should read the lawsuits filed on behalf of inmates Bradley Ballard and Carlos Mercado. Continue reading

Another Mentally Ill Inmate Dies in Restraint Chair, Sparking Lawsuit

On Wednesday, the Tri-City Herald reported that Franklin County, Washington is being sued for allegedly ‘inhumane and barbaric practices’ that have put mentally ill inmates in harms way.

The suit is being brought by Columbia Legal Services, a Seattle-based legal aid organization that is working on behalf of mistreated inmates at Franklin County Jail. Lawyers allege that Franklin County is one of the worst jails in the country. The mental health needs of inmates are ignored and they are instead “chained to a fence for days, pepper-sprayed without reason, left unsupervised in restraint chairs and forced into isolation.”

One story involved a man who bit off two of his fingers while chained to a fence in the booking area. After he came back from the hospital, they chained him to the fence again. The suit also accuses the jail of “placing inmates in isolation to live in ‘degrading and deplorable’ conditions; forcing inmates to sleep on concrete floors without blankets for extended periods of time; pepper-spraying inmates, then providing no medical attention or way to clean up; unconstitutionally locking inmates down for 23 hours a day; denying inmates access to family visits, phone calls and outdoor activities.”

Continue reading

Former Prisoners Face Significant Healthcare Challenges

The Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act allows states to give inmates across the country access to some health coverage that continues after they are released. But access to health insurance is just a small part of the health-related challenges inmates face on the other side.

At CNN, Dr. Emily Wang writes that many former inmates with chronic health problems “have their first exposure to health care as adults in prison.” This is a sad state of affairs to begin with, and as facilities have become overcrowded and medical programs outsourced to private contractors in recent decades, prisoners have found it increasingly difficult to get the care they need.

Continue reading

Idaho Officials: Missing Inmate Medical Records and $100k Drug Shortage Plagues Private Prison Transition

Idaho Correctional Center

Earlier this year, the AP reported that the Idaho Department of Corrections would retake control of the state’s largest prison from Corrections Corporation of America amid a “decade of mismanagement and other problems at the facility.” That transition is now underway. Today, the Associated Press published new complaints by state officials who say CCA’s poor planning and lack of medical care for inmates has produced ‘challenges,’ offering another possible glimpse into how private prisons cut costs and put inmates’ lives at risk. According to the AP:

Another problem was missing medical records and evidence that some inmates with chronic illnesses weren’t getting the regular medical care they needed, Evans said. The department has asked Corizon to go through the inmates’ records to determine what needs to be done to treat them, he said.

Officials also said the state had to pay for $100,000 worth of drugs to be overnighted after CCA left without a promised 8-day supply of medication. What is truly remarkable here is that CCA tried to defend itself by saying its estimates for the monthly cost of medication were lower than what the IDOC said they needed for just 8 days:

“CCA conducted an inventory with Corizon and determined that there was an adequate supply of medication available at the time of transition,” Owen wrote. “What’s more, CCA’s average monthly cost for medication at the facility was below $100,000, so IDOC’s figure for what we assume are identical medications is far in excess of what an eight-day supply would cost.”

To reiterate, CCA’s estimate of what it would cost to provide inmates with the drugs they need for an entire month was less than what state officials deemed was necessary for ONLY 8 days — so necessary in fact that they paid to have the drugs overnighted to the facility. Furthermore, if CCA is to be believed, it’s worth noting that their figures are derived from consultation with another contractor in the prison industry, Corizon, which itself has a record of prison healthcare mismanagement. The AP’s original report, which prompted an investigation and the state’s take-over of the prison, indicates that the Idaho Corrections Center earned the nickname “gladiator school” under CCA’s management for its high levels of violence. According to that report, prison officials denied inmates medical treatment as a way of covering up the assaults. Once the ICC is back under the state’s control, the prison will no longer be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. If these reports from state officials are true, CCA clearly should have never been exempt in the first place.