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Cutting Corners on Health Care Hurts Us All

It’s unusual for a private contractor to terminate its own contract, especially a contract for $1.2 billion. But that just happened in Florida.

After two years of controversy, Corizon, America’s largest for-profit prison health care provider, just decided to end its care of 74,000 prisoners in the state. The company—which is owned by a private equity firm—says they’re leaving because the contract terms aren’t flexible enough. But their time in Florida has a familiar ring to it: understaffing, poor service, and hundreds of lawsuits by prisoners.

Last year, 346 prisoners died in Florida prisons—the highest number in the state on record, even though the total number of prisoners has declined. 176 of those prisoners were listed with no immediate cause of death.

Corizon’s time in Florida has a familiar ring to it: understaffing, poor service, and hundreds of lawsuits by prisoners.

A recent state audit found nursing and staffing shortages, “notable disorganization” among medical records, and “life threatening” conditions. One tragic example: three prisoners with cancer were misdiagnosed by Corizon staff—all were given Tylenol and ibuprofen for their spreading cancers, and two have since died.

That makes six states that have cut ties with Corizon one way or another. New York City recently ended the company’s contract after 15 years of controversy on Rikers Island. And after the tragic death of a California prisoner in July, many are calling for Alameda County to end its relationship with Corizon.

Far too often, despite promises of better services for less money, private contractors understaff and cut corners on services to turn a profit. Even after requesting and receiving millions of dollars beyond the original contract terms with Florida, Corizon clearly had trouble providing adequate care. 

To explain their decision, Corizon’s CEO said, “We have tried to address the department’s concerns but have found the terms of the current contract too constraining.” If adequately caring for prisoners is “too constraining,” then Corizon shouldn’t be in the business of prison health care.

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