Inmates ‘Still Human Beings’: Prison Health Care Provider Under Investigation

Jovon Frazier’s pleas for treatment of the intense pain that radiated from his left shoulder to his elbow were met mostly with Tylenol, months after he landed in Florida’s Manatee County Jail, reports the Ocala Star Banner.

“It really hurts! HELP!” Frazier, then 18, wrote the second time he asked for care, in August 2009.

“I need to see a doctor!” he wrote on his eighth request form, after an X-ray came back negative. “I done put a lot of sick calls in & ya’ll keep sending me back and ain’t tell me nothing.”

Four months later, after Frazier’s 13th request resulted in hospitalization and doctors quickly diagnosed bone cancer, his arm had to be amputated, according to a lawsuit filed by his family. But the cancer spread and Frazier died in 2011, months after his release.

Inmates are “still human beings. I think some people forget that, I really do. They’re somebody’s child,” said Shirley Jenkins, Frazier’s grandmother.

According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Frazier’s medical care had been managed not by the county sheriff’s office that runs the jail, but by a private health care company under contract.

“The problem is a structure that creates incentives to cut corners and deny care to powerless people that have no other options,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

The company, Corizon Health Inc., is under growing pressure after losing five state prison contracts, downgrades by analysts and increasing scrutiny of its care of inmates held by some of its largest customers, including New York City. Corizon, responsible for 345,000 inmates in 27 states, is the country’s biggest for-profit correctional health provider, but is just one of many firms vying for billions of public dollars spent on prisoner care.

“We get letters from prisoners about medical care not being provided and the list is endless. And it’s increased tremendously since Corizon took over,” said Randall Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, who represents inmates petitioning for care.

Corizon said it strives to provide quality care, according to the Ocala Star Banner.

“We are always troubled by any questions on the care provided to our patients and view this as an opportunity to reconfirm our commitment to operational ethics and professionalism,” company spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern said in a written statement.

Its care of the 11,000 inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island is under “comprehensive review” by officials, who say they are concerned about problems including at least 16 deaths since 2009, reports the Tribune.

Arizona hired Corizon last year to replace Wexford Health Sources Inc., after its care came under fire. But an advocacy group warned that “if anything, things have gotten worse” in state prisons. Arizona and the ACLU recently reached a settlement calling for more monitoring of inmate care.

Meanwhile Corizon has lost longstanding prison contracts in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee and Pennsylvania since 2012. Auditors in three states documented problems, including slowness to address inmates’ urgent requests for off-site care and poor record-keeping.

In October, Volusia County, Florida, officials questioned Corizon executives about lawsuits and its financial stability before voting unanimously to switch contractors. The hearing was held in the shadow of a lawsuit filed locally by the family of Tracy Veira, an inmate who choked to death in 2009 in a cell where she was supposed to be under watch while detoxing from painkillers.

A nurse working for one of the companies that merged to form Corizon saw an ailing Veira in the jail’s clinic the afternoon before she died. She told a supervisor the inmate looked like she needed hospitalization, but that Veira was instead sent back to her cell, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

When the commissioners questioned Corizon’s executives, there was no mention of Veira. But Commissioner Deb Denys said she was mindful of the case, scheduled for a July trial.

“I think everybody was,” Denys said. “Sometimes you don’t state the obvious.”

[Image via Clyde Middleton Attorney]