Recent decades have seen the rise of not only private, for-profit prisons but also the privatization of other aspects of corrections systems, most notably the provision of medical care. As with prison privatization, the only people who have benefited are the owners of and investors in the companies. Everyone else – prisoners, taxpayers and the government itself – has received short shrift with little to show for privatization except empty, unrealized promises of cost savings.
The prison medical industry is dominated by a few large corporations such as Corizon, Centurion and Wexford Health Sources, which are the core oligopoly companies. There are smaller players, too, though most will likely eventually be bought out by one of the larger ones. These smaller firms typically operate at the regional and local levels, and rarely make national news or headlines. Their business model is the same: to provide as few services as possible while billing the government as much as possible. This month’s cover story examines the California Forensic Medical Group, one of those small regional companies whose body count and track record of inadequate care, negligence, incompetence and greed puts it in the running with the larger corporations in the prison medical industry.
All too often the injustices at the local level are harder to expose and resolve simply because they are local. One of the questions I am sometimes asked is why does PLN report on lawsuits and terrible conditions at small, rural jails? Why does PLN sue county jails with unconstitutional mail policies rather than focus on larger facilities and entire prison systems? The reality is that injustice is just as real for the people who experience it whether they are in a big prison or a local jail, and there are typically even fewer resources available at small detention facilities – which sometimes have higher death rates and more egregious conditions, usually because they are more poorly managed and face less scrutiny.
For readers who preordered the Prison Education Guide by Christopher Zoukis, the book arrived from the printer in late February and shipped within days after it was delivered to our office. It has received excellent reviews and anyone interested in pursuing an education while incarcerated should order a copy. While that title is good for the mind, we are also distributing another new book that is good for the body: Cell Workout by L.J. Flanders, a former British prisoner, which describes how to exercise with no equipment to build a lean, muscular body. It’s a great resource for prisoners in isolation as well as anyone who does not have or want to use a gym. We have been looking for a good prison exercise book to add to our bookstore for several years, and this is the best one we’ve found to date. It is available from PLN for $35 – see page 69.
As this issue goes to press, the Federal Communications Commission’s recent order capping the cost of prison phone calls nationwide was due to go into effect on March 17, 2016. Nine states and several telecom companies have filed suit to prevent that from happening, however, and while we are intervening in the case to defend the FCC’s order, on March 7 the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a partial stay. As described in greater detail in this issue of PLN, the stay prevents the FCC’s most recent rate caps from going into effect, though the earlier caps imposed in 2014 – $.25/min. for collect and $.21/min. for debit and prepaid interstate calls – will still apply. Other aspects of the FCC’s order were not stayed by the appellate court.
The struggle around prison and jail phone rates continues and we need your help to keep that fight going. Please send donations to support the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, so we can ensure affordable phone rates for prisoners and their families. We are currently fighting multiple state attorneys general, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the nation’s largest prison phone service providers – Global Tel*Link and Securus – and several smaller companies. They are all bankrolled with money taken from prisoners and their family members through exploitive prison and jail phone rates. We need your help to continue fighting for prison phone justice! You can donate online at www.prisonlegalnews.org, by mail or by phone at (561) 360-2523.
We will report future events as they occur, including the outcome of the court challenge to the FCC’s order. The best way for people outside of prison to stay abreast of these issues is to subscribe to PLN’s free email newsletter at www.prisonlegalnews.org/subscribe/email, where we report prison and corrections-related news on a daily basis with an emphasis on litigation and the struggle for prisoners’ rights and criminal justice reform.
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