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Articles by David Reutter

Continued Failure in Privatized Medical Care at Kentucky Jails

by David Reutter

Private medical contractors have become popular among corrections officials eager to reduce the cost of providing health care to prisoners. As PLN continues to chronicle this phenomenon, we continue to find substantial evidence that for-profit companies fail to provide adequate medical care – including in county jails in Kentucky.

Nearly two-thirds of Kentucky’s jails have contracts with private medical providers Southern Health Partners (SHP) or Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH). SHP contracts with 30 jails in Kentucky and more than 170 facilities in 12 other states; ACH contracts with over 20 Kentucky jails plus more than 235 facilities in 16 other states.

For the most part, private medical providers are not subject to independent oversight.

“There is no inspection/investigation of the quality of medical care,” said Louisville attorney Greg Belzley, who has filed numerous lawsuits alleging that deficient health care has caused or contributed to deaths or near-deaths among prisoners in Kentucky jails.

“Doing the time is supposed to mean living in a jail with your liberty taken away, eating jail food, with unsavory characters. It doesn’t mean dying because your basic medical needs are ignored,” Belzley stated.

Yet that is exactly what happened to ...

“Deal with the Devil” Turning on Mississippi Counties

by David Reutter

As mass incarceration in the United States grew between 1990 and 2005, many lawmakers decided to ride the wave of “tough on crime” rhetoric by building new correctional facilities to house the increasing number of people being arrested, convicted and incarcerated. During that period, 544 detention centers were built in the U.S. – one every ten days for 15 years.

But a current trend to reduce incarceration levels rather than impose long sentences is causing the wave to recede, leaving fewer people to fill prison and jail beds which nonetheless continue to consume tax dollars for their debt service and maintenance costs.

Mississippi is a case in point. With its prison system bursting at the seams in the late 1990s, state officials often refused to accept prisoners from county jails, even when they were sentenced to prison terms. One sheriff went so far as to drive prisoners to a state facility and leave them handcuffed to the fence.

To address the problem, lawmakers offered local municipalities a deal: Build county-operated regional correctional facilities, and the state would promise to keep them at 80% capacity, paying $29.74 per prisoner per day. Local officials took out bonds ...

Michigan Prisoner’s Suicide Under Investigation; Lawsuit Filed

by David Reutter

A Michigan prison guard has been criminally charged following an investigation into her role in a prisoner’s suicide – an investigation that also resulted in a federal lawsuit and an admission of misconduct from the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).

Janika Edmond, 25, was serving a sentence of 17 months to 4 years at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility near Ann Arbor. Her sentence was imposed after a probation violation for failing a drug test and an assault on a jail guard following her arrest.

While in prison, Edmond experienced a marked increase in disruptive behavior, ranging from insolence to fighting and creating disturbances. She had one high-level incident between May and September 2013; 11 between September 2013 and June 2014; and 28 from June 2014 to June 2015. Her probation violation report predicted that such behavior would occur.

“She does not feel incarceration is appropriate because it just makes her more hostile and therefore, more assaultive,” the report stated.

Prison medical staff treated Edmond’s mental health issues with Zoloft and Seroquel, medications used for major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She repeatedly tried to harm herself and was put on suicide watch multiple times ...

Perfect Storm of Overcrowding, Violence and Staff Shortages in Tennessee Prisons

by David Reutter

An increasing prison population within the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), combined with staff shortages, created a perfect storm that spawned high levels of violence in the state’s prison system.

The TDOC has maintained that its prisons are safe. But state legislative hearings uncovered a scheme to conceal high levels of violence by misclassifying violent incidents. Also, some TDOC guard cadets were found to be affiliated with gangs, while maximum-security prisoners were reclassified for placement in general population and a new work schedule led many employees to retire or quit, exacerbating staffing problems.

Yet then-TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield retained the full support of Governor Bill Haslam until Schofield left office at the end of June 2016 for a lucrative position with one of the nation’s largest private prison companies.

By July 2015 the TDOC had 20,242 prisoners, putting the system at 98.5 percent of operating capacity. Under state law that should have resulted in the TDOC asking Haslam to declare an overcrowding emergency. But no request was made, even as at least three prisons – the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP), Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX) and South Central Correctional Facility – were at or ...

Gangs, Privatization Create “Chaotic” Conditions in Mississippi Prisons

By David Reutter

Mention prison and most people imagine dark thoughts.  The reasons for those thoughts vary from a fear of losing personal freedom to the images from Hollywood that portray prison as a gladiator school where violence reigns and only the mean or wily survive.

In recent decades, American courts developed a theory of “evolving standards of decency” that demands humane and safe environs prevail in our prisons.  Politicians have touted the need to punish, but of late they have been advocating “smart justice” that once again puts rehabilitation into the mix.

Rhetoric is one thing; reality is another. An expert who recently toured a privatized MDOC prison found “chaotic conditions of confinement” that present an “ongoing risk of serious harm” for prisoners and staff. Prison experts, civil rights advocates, and the media have repeatedly criticized conditions that have resulted in the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) having a higher mortality rate than Detroit.

MDOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps urged citizens to take a “hard look” into depictions of violence, gang activity, and corruption in the state’s prisons.  He touted MDOC’s positives, which he proclaimed is “a nationally recognized leader in corrections reform.”

Among the ...

Florida’s Prison System Agrees to Upgrade Care of Mentally Ill

by David Reutter

In 2015, Disability Rights of Florida obtained a settlement that requires the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to more humanely care for mentally ill prisoners at Dade Correctional Institution (DCI), the same prison where prisoner Darren Rainey was scalded to death.

DCI has the largest mental health facility within FDOC. The lawsuit was brought following a series of articles by the Miami Herald that reported abuse of mentally ill prisoners in the Transitional Care Unit (TCU), the prison’s psychiatric ward.

The 15-page agreement is restricted to conditions at DCI, but it is hoped the agreement will impact conditions at other prisons with psychiatric units. The advocacy group investigation found guards targeted the mentally ill for abuse, and prison medical staff failed to report the abuse.

“Mr. Rainey was not the only victim of the shower treatment,” said Peter Sleasman of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, which brought the lawsuit for Disability Rights of Florida. “What we learned is that, to some extent, those same abuses were affecting others in the unit.”

The May 2015 agreement requires Crisis Intervention Training for all of the prison’s staff; new hires will also receive the training. Specialized training ...

Florida Prisoner Deaths Spike with Privatized Prisoner Health Care

by David Reutter

With the advent of privatized prisoner health care in Florida, a spike in deaths has hit levels not seen in 10 years. Yet, privatization remains popular with Gov. Rick Scott, the former CEO of a healthcare conglomerate that bilked the government out of millions.

When campaigning to become governor, Scott promised to cut prison costs by privatizing the prison system. Despite opposition from guard unions, Scott won the election. He, however, lost a quest to privatize the entire prison system because such a move required legislative action. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.1].

The court ruling ending prison privatization left open the option of privatizing the prison health care system. Scott too that option, and in 2012 the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) signed contracts with two companies totaling about $1.3 billion. Both companies are familiar to PLN readers for their history of putting profit before any semblance of real care [See: PLN, June 2013, p.24].

Corizon Health won a $1.2 billion, five year contract to care for prisoners in about 44 prisons. Wexford Health Services received a $240 million contract over the same period for overseeing care at nine south Florida prisons. FDOC ...

Report Finds Alabama Prisons Are Deliberately Indifferent to Prisoner’s Medical Needs

by David Reutter

Alabama prisoners live in “human warehouses” where “systemic indifference discrimination and dangerous – even life-threatening – conditions are the norm.” That factual finding was drawn in a 2014 report that followed an investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP).

The 23 page report compiles the findings of SPLC and ADAP after they inspected Alabama’s 15 prisons, interviewed over 100 prisoners, and reviewed thousands of pages of medical records, depositions, media accounts, and the policies and contracts of the Alabama Department of Correction (ADOC) and two major contractors.

The result is “one inescapable conclusion,” that Alabama’s prisons violate federal law protecting people with disabilities and the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The report’s three sections focus on the inadequacy of medical staff that leads to treatment delays, the systematic failure in mental health care, and the violation of the rights of prisoners with disabilities.

As of March 2014, ADOC held 25,055 prisoners. “Yet, there are only 15.2 doctors and 12.4 dentists for this city behind bars,” states the report. “A doctor’s average caseload is 1,648 patients and a dentist’s ...

Alabama Guard Shortage Results in Huge Overtime Pay

by David Reutter

Alabama paid $20.8 million in overtime to guards for staffing of its prisons in calendar year 2013. That is an increase of an average of $13 million over the previous for years.

From 2000 to 2012, Alabama’s prison budget swelled from $173.5 million to $373.5 million. Despite that increase, prisons remain understaffed as a result of attempts to cut budgets. A hiring freeze has hampered efforts to increase the number of guards in the work pool.

According to Kristi Gates, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), a minimum of 2,350 to 2,400 guards are required to staff ADOC’s prisons. For the fiscal year ended in September, ADOC averaged only 2,150 guards in is workforce.

The shortage has forced ADOC to offer overtime to guards who volunteer to fill empty slots. That has created a windfall of earnings for some guards.

Irvin Harris, a guard at Kilby Correctional Facility, was ADOC top earner from 2009 to 2013, earning $492,752.08 over that period. Close behind were guards Lercy Jamison, Jr., ($461,964.59) and Samuel E, Johnson, III ($406,085.47). Over that five year period, at least ...

Political Contributions Push Privatization in Florida’s Prison System

by David Reutter

Privatization has been all the rage in Florida’s prison system for some time. By 2003, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), had contracts with private companies to operate its canteen, food service, and telephone operations. By then it also had several privately run prisons in its system.

PLN has chronicled incidents over the years to show that privatization is the fruit of political clout and often involve kickbacks that result in corruption. [See: PLN, Jan. 2006, p. 20; Mar. 2011, p. 1]. The problem is not confined to Florida, as the citizens of Mississippi learned after their corrections commissioner was recently indicted. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p. 42].

Gov. Rick Scott campaigned on cutting the FDOC’s budget, and one of his first acts in office was to pen contracts to privatize the entire prison system and its medical care. Due to a statutory provision, the move to privatize prisons was blocked by a court and failed in the next legislative session. The move to privatize prisoner medical care, however, moved forward.

Anyone who makes even a cursory investigation into prison privatization can easily conclude that it is tainted with corruption and poor-services from profit-mongering companies who cut ...


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