Pope Francis has said that an “economy of exclusion and inequality” is an “economy that kills.” Tanti Martinez knows this firsthand. Tanti’s son Mario died in July in an Alameda County, CA, jail after Corizon, a private company contracted to provide health care to prisoners at the jail, failed to provide him surgery and adequate treatment for asthma.
Later this month, Tanti hopes to share her son’s story with the Pope, who will visit Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center, a Philadelphia jail that also contracts with Corizon.
“He was a father, a son, a brother, a human being. And, they let him die,” said Tanti.
“My nephew’s life and his death highlight the failures of the criminal justice system,” said Sheri Coast, Mario’s aunt. “His death was caused by negligence on the part of a corporation that made donations to the same people who circumvented the usual procurement process and approved a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Mario’s story illuminates the often unforgiving intersection between for-profit companies and the criminal justice system. Corizon makes $1.4 billion annually from government contracts in 27 states and has come under fire for putting profits ahead of quality care. In 2013, Philadelphia renewed its contract with Corizon to provide health care to city facilities, despite a nation-wide track record of inadequate care, prisoner deaths, and understaffing.
Also in Pennsylvania, a recent audit of Corizon’s contract with Allegheny County found that the company downsized at a Pittsburgh jail from four full-time physicians to one. That’s one full-time doctor for over 2,000 prisoners. In 2014, the year after Corizon started providing health care at the jail, seven prisoners died.
At Curran-Fromhold, a number of other companies—including Aramark, JPay, GTL, and Keefe Group—have contracts to provide services to prisoners. These companies have histories of providing low-quality services, harming not only prisoners, but communities and taxpayers as well.
These examples underscore that when prisoners experience harm or neglect in our criminal justice system, it is often by the hands of private companies.
After the Pope’s Philadelphia visit, faith groups and advocates will launch a nationwide effort to act on the Pope’s messages about inequality and criminal justice, asking county officials and state legislators to end for-profit contracting in their local jails and prisons. Because every dollar that becomes profit for a private prison company is one that could be spent on adequate staffing, quality health care, and education and training programs to prepare prisoners for productive lives when released.