It’s no secret that private prisons operate under questionable practices. After all, they run as businesses and make a profit off of locking people up. Some private prisons are even sealed into contracts promising to fulfill “lockup quotas” between 95% and 100% occupancy, meaning that even if communities meet their objective of lower crime rates, taxpayers see no benefit, as they have to pay for prisons as if they were filled to capacity. Outsourcing to for-profit corporations is nothing new in America. For the past several decades, cities, counties, and states have been handing over control of prisons, roads, sanitation departments, water treatment facilities, and other services to businesses that promise to run these services better and cheaper than the government. However, whereas states may be cutting costs, private operators may not always be providing health care that is good or better than what the state could do.

Private prisons pick and choose their inmates based on liability, as they only house the healthy. But when those healthy inmates do happen to need medical attention, they may not be receiving the care they require, and many private prisons have been under scrutiny for this reason. Some are even saying that this inadequate care has resulted in many deaths. A report published last year by the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona found that since the state privatized its prison health care by contracting one of the nation’s largest health care vendors, Corizon, medical spending in prisons dropped by $30 million. It also found a drastic increase in the number of inmate deaths. In the first 8 months of 2013, 50 people died while in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections, compared with 37 deaths in the previous 2 years combined.


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In November, an Arizona prison nurse for Corizon, who asked to keep her identity hidden due to fear that Corizon management will discipline her, came forward about the conditions at Arizona state prisons. According to the nurse, Corizon is cutting costs, cutting corners, and ultimately cutting short the lives of patients. She says that inmates with severe diagnoses who needed to be seen quickly were delayed. “30 days is when they were supposed to be seen, but it could be 60 days, 90 days, 4 months, or 6 months,” she said. When asked if she believed that some of these patients could have died because of delayed care, she responded, “Absolutely.”

How do prisons that privatize their health care get away with cutting corners? For the most part, it’s hard for governors and state legislatures to support higher spending and better quality of care for inmates because of the punitive attitudes toward prisoners. Some don’t think prisoners should receive health care at all. As a result of those attitudes, prisons are providing care on less-than-adequate funding because that’s how much municipalities, state legislatures, and county commissions are allocating. To top it off, prison health care is a segment that often flies under the public radar.

With any luck, the questionable practices of private prisons and state prisons contracting private health care will increasingly be thrust into the spotlight, increasing public concern.

Reference

  1. Kutscher B. Rumble over jailhouse healthcare. Modern Healthcare website. August 31, 2013. http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20130831/MAGAZINE/308319891.
  2. Lee B. Corizon nurse blows whistle on healthcare. AZ Family website. Updated November 14, 2014. http://www.azfamily.com/news/Corizon-Nurse-Blows-Whistle-On-Patient-Healthcare-282211871.html.
  3. Leonard K. Privatized prison health care scrutinized. The Washington Post website. July 21, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/privatized-prison-health-care-scrutinized/2012/07/21/gJQAgsp70W_story.html.
  4. New report: prison health care in Arizona worsens under private prison company Corizon. American Friends Service Committee website. November 4, 2013. http://www.afsc.org/story/new-report-prison-health-care-arizona-worsens-under-private-prison-company-corizon.
  5. Volokh S. Are private prisons better or worse than public prisons? The Washington Post website. February 25, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/02/25/are-private-prisons-better-or-worse-than-public-prisons.