By Paul Wright
The abysmal state of detention facility healthcare has been a staple of PLN coverage since our inception in 1990. If anything, it has steadily gotten worse over the years, but one factor that has driven the decrease in care has been the rise in private, for profit healthcare. In 1990 when PLN started, it was still a nascent industry, while today it is massive, with a small number of companies sucking down billions in tax payer dollars on a business model predicated on getting as much money as possible out of the government and then doing as little as possible in terms of actual medical care or treatment. The less they do they more they profit.
Over the decades PLN has reported extensively on prison healthcare issues, not just in terms of specific cases or outcomes but also systemwide issues as well as, in the case of the for-profit companies, individual companies. After more than three decades of reporting it is fair to say that while some prisons may actually improve their healthcare a little bit, most do not. When it comes to private, for-profit heathcare companies, they are financially incapable of improving their healthcare outcomes because it flatly contradicts their mandate to maximize profits for their owners, and killing and maiming prisoners is just a byproduct of that mandate.
I am proud to say that in almost 34 years of publishing, none of the Human Rights Defense Centers books or magazines has ever gotten a demand letter from anyone claiming that anything we have published is untrue or inaccurate. And we have never been sued by anyone claiming otherwise. This is why I was very surprised in late 2022 to get served with a lawsuit from Centurion in Florida seeking an injunction against HRDC to prevent us from newsgathering by filing public record requests for company documents. An even bigger surprise was that we had previously sued Centurion for public records in Florida and won, and we had lawsuits pending against them in New Mexico and Vermont on the same topic.
The hazards and dangers of private equity-owned healthcare corporations are not limited to prisoners. A study published by JAMA on December 26, 2023, found that patients have higher death rates and higher costs or expenses at hospitals than patients previously had at the same hospitals before they became owned by private equity companies, and compared to others. Negative outcomes increased from 25 to 38%
At the time the suit was filed, Centurion was owned by Centene, the 25th biggest corporation in the United States. While far from a household name, they are actually bigger than Bank of America and Comcast. So why is the 25th biggest corporation in America suing HRDC, a tiny criminal justice nonprofit? The most obvious inferences are they are trying to intimidate us into silence and more importantly, stop us from even asking basic questions, like how many prisoners are they killing and crippling through medical neglect?
These corporate intimidation lawsuits are known as SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and are designed to silence and intimidate corporate critics. Like HRDC and PLN. Fortunately, the Seattle law firm Davis, Wright Tremaine and Florida attorney James Slater, who all have extensive experience with SLAPP suits, have been able to step up and defend HRDC on this matter and we have responded with our own countersuit seeking the public records they are trying to keep us from getting.
All of which gets us back to the main question: Just how good or bad is Centurion’s medical treatment of prisoners? This month’s cover story helps us answer that and it is pretty much as expected and also pretty similar to that of their fellow private, for-profit medical companies. Namely, a blood-stained trail of taxpayer dollars paid for in the lives and misery of prisoners going to boost the corporate coffers of Centene and its successor private owners of Centurion. And as is always the case with these private, for-profit companies, any financial benefit for the taxpayers paying the bills is elusive to find.
This SLAPP lawsuit against PLN and HRDC is expensive to fight and yes, it is having its desired effect. I am thinking about Centurion and the Centene corporation almost every day now. Before they sued us, I thought about them around once or twice a week. I would ask that if you believe in freedom of the press and want to help keep us publishing and investigating, please donate to help us keep fighting.
On other notes about Centurion, as this issue is going to press, we won a ruling against them in Vermont that they were subject to the Vermont public records statutes. We have a similar lawsuit pending against them in New Mexico. We will report the details in an upcoming issue.
PLN is the most censored publication in America. Famous newspaper oligarch William Randolph Hearst is reputed to have said that news is what people in power don’t want you to read, everything else is advertising. There is a reason prisons and jails want to keep people from reading PLN and our sister publication Criminal Legal News (CLN). There is a reason Centurion is trying to intimidate us into silence and stop asking questions about their medical care. Free speech is not free, we need your help and support to keep going on this and to be clear: We are fighting wars of attrition, and both the government and Centurion have a lot more in the way of resources than we do. But we are able to leverage our limited resources and get excellent results in the process.
We have a number of exciting projects coming up in 2024 and will be rolling them through the year. If you have not donated to our annual fundraiser it isn’t too late to do so; please see the ad on p.46.
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