Last year, 346 inmates died in Florida prisons, the highest number on record, even though the overall number of inmates in Florida has been declining—176 of them were listed with no immediate cause of death, according to the Miami Herald.
These figures help explain why Tennessee-based prison healthcare provider Corizon Health is terminating its contract with the state of Florida almost three years early.
The writing was on the wall, per the Herald:
In February, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was ordered to renegotiate the contract by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after a series of reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations showed suspicious inmate deaths were covered up or never reviewed, staffing was inadequate, and inmate grievances and complaints of harmful medical care were dismissed or ignored.
Audits conducted by the state’s Correctional Medical Authority found problems with inadequate medical care, nursing and staffing shortages, and hundreds of pending lawsuits against the state and the healthcare companies claiming inadequate care.
Florida's experience with Corizon, which remains America's largest for-profit prison healthcare provider, is not unique. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as of January, five other states had already cut ties with the firm. New York City implied Corizon was criminally responsible for the death of an inmate at Rikers Island when it declined to defend the company in a lawsuit stemming from the case. The city ended its relationship with Corizon after 15 years of the company running Rikers, which is now undergoing comprehensive reforms.
Still, Corizon remains responsible for responsible for 345,000 inmates in 27 states. Some say the company is a symptom of a larger problem.
“I don’t have a great love for private health care…but I don’t think that they’re the source of the problem,” Dr. Marc Stern, former health services director for Washington state’s prisons and a one-time employee of Corizon's predecessor firm, told the Post-Dispatch. “I think the problem is how much money and effort we are willing to put into correctional health care."
But the Post-Dispatch says there are signs Corizon is particularly problematic.
“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,” Randall Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, which represents inmates petitioning for care.
In a statement to the Herald, Corizon's CEO said the conditions in Florida were too difficult to operate under.
"We have tried to address the department’s concerns but have found the terms of the current contract too constraining," Karey Witty told the paper. "At this point, we believe the best way to move forward is to focus our efforts on a successful transition to a new provider.”
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.