Being put behind bars won't be great for your well-being, but it's great business for the exploding private business which provides physicians to jails and prisons.
At a trade fair — the 35th Annual American Jail Association Conference — in Austin, Texas recently, companies lined up to peddle everything from coveralls to meal trays. When the national anthem had been sung, and the chaplain finished praying, the people gathered at Austin's convention center got down to the business of giving money.
How much longer prisons will be the money-generators may answered by who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Hillary Clinton has promised to stop private penitentiaries, and Donald Trump has said he will increase the outsourcing of prisons.
One of the most in-demand products for outsourced services is health care. The industry is worth almost $4 billion a year.
In the midst of the healthcare spokespeople at AAJAC was Todd Murphy, leader of business expansion for Correctional Medical Group Companies — the biggest private health care provider in California.
"Business is terrific," said Murphy. "We've been in business for 32 years." Murphy wouldn't share the company bills for its service, but did say, "It's not inexpensive, but it's sufficient."
Not all agree.
An analysis of the California Department of Justice found that over 190 prisoners perished following the care of the California subsidiary of CMGC. The corporation is looking at a class-action suit over medical failings for which it has agreed to a $4.9 million settlement.
Besides California, Florida and Indiana are two more states which are having problems with contracting out health care services.
After two years of complaints, Corizon Health — the private company that has been responsible for inmate health care — is calling it quits. The future of care for the state's 74,000 inmates is in doubt as Corizon walked away from a $1.1 billion contract with the state.
The Tennessee-based company's decision happened as the Florida Department of Corrections was reviewing the company's quality-of-service amid inmate maltreatment, chronic understaffing and an increasing number of unnatural inmate deaths.
Corizon CEO Karey Witty claimed the company had tried to speak to the department's concerns. However, Witty said the terms of the contract were too "constraining." The terms in question? Corizon was expected to take reasonable care of the inmates.
In February, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was instructed to review the contract. The orders, given by Senator Greg Evers, came following reports in the Miami Herald, which revealed questionable prisoner deaths were hidden, staffing was inadequate, and inmate grievances of adverse mehealth dical care were ignored.
Audits by the state's Correctional Medical Authority supported the complaints which have resulted in hundreds of lawsuits against the state and Corizon.
Corizon's decision to bail out deals a body blow to the attempt by Governor Rick Scott to privatize medical care in Florida prisons.
Under Corizon's cozy deal, the company was to be paid $230 million annually — until June 2018 — to provide health care at 112 of Florida's prisons, work camps, and work-release centers. The contract required the company provide medical care for 8 percent less than it cost the state in 2010, but Corizon sought and was given, an increase each year.
"This is great news," said Representative Carlos Trujillo of Miami. Trujillo, chair of the House Criminal Justice subcommittee had been supportive of the attempts to rework the contract. Trujillo says "the healthcare outcomes were some of the worst in any sort of managed care."
Profits Before Prisoners in Indiana
The quantity of medical grievances registered with Indiana's Department of Corrections has gone from 154 in 2010 to over 500 in 2015. The amount of inmate deaths rose as well, hitting 87 in 2015.
Inmates, or their relatives, have filed over 170 health-related civil rights lawsuits in Indiana against Corizon since 2010 with 45 of those happening in 2015. The state has resolved almost 40 of those incidents while it paid out over $1 million.
In a classic display of being out of touch, a spokesperson for Indiana's Department of Corrections defended the medical care available to the state's 25,000 inmates, saying, "I am convinced that our clinical metrics for continuing conditions are greater than the free world."
No one with Indiana's DOC could sufficiently explain what "clinical metrics" were.
When questioned about prescription medications provided to inmates, state officials provided two different sets of figures.
One showed the number of medications prescribed stayed the same for two years; despite the fact that the number of prisoners in the state's prison system varies.
The other set showed a strangely uniform pattern of ordering medications for prisoners that lasted for years. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of inmates prescribed drugs escalated for the first half of the year before dropping in the closing months.
Officials in Indiana — as well as Florida and New York — have accused Corizon of taking shortcuts in their efforts to save money. The result: inadequate care for inmates.
The inadequate inmate health care is apt to impact the country.
Dr. Marc Stern, former head of Washington State Prisons estimates that over half of all state and regional prisons and jails have outsourced their healthcare.
"The sweeping privatizations in the nation don't make life more unsafe for prisoners. What makes it critical is we don't put in sufficient money." Stern said.
Stern believes that prison health care is inadequately funded because society doesn't think it's necessary until a family member is in jail.
"Prison health care effects everyone. The public has this idea that you go to the penitentiary and don't come back. The reality is 98 percent of prisoners re-join the community, and they carry all the diseases — which are in prison — back."