In his fiscal year 2014 budget, Gov. Rick Scott proposes to eliminate 2,355 jobs by privatizing health services for state prisoners. Privatization of prisons is a national fad among Republican governors and legislatures. States unload thousands of employees and their pensions and the private companies squeeze the inmates and their staff to make a profit.
The governor isn’t waiting for state lawmakers to make this move to privatization. In January, the state’s Department of Corrections signed a $48 million annual contract with Wexford Health Sources to outsource medical care to more than 15,000 inmates in South Florida.
A month earlier, Corizon Health Inc.’s five-year, $230 million contract to provide services for inmates in central and northern Florida prisons was blocked when a judge ruled the state entered into the deal illegally.
Both companies have battled lawsuits in federal and state courts and have been fined in states where the for-profit companies run health services for prison systems.
In Escambia County, we have seen how for-profit companies can botch health services for inmates.
In 2005, Robert Boggon suffered a mental episode in a Dollar Tree store, which landed him in the Escambia County Jail. Despite at one point rocking on the floor of his cell and urinating on himself and displaying other odd behaviors, the 65-year-old trucker never received a psychiatric evaluation during the 11 days he spent in the jail. He was only given the minimum medication to calm him down, according to court documents.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Boggon was found dead in his cell in the jail infirmary, naked, strapped to an emergency restraint chair with a towel wrapped around his head. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, but placed the blame on no one.
Prison Health Services managed the infirmary at the Escambia County Jail. In 2005, the for-profit company provided health services for about one in every 10 people behind bars in this country.
Prison Health Services has evolved over the past six years, through several mergers and reorganizations, and is now a subsidiary of Corizon. The Corizon CEO is Rich Hallworth, who was president and CEO of PHS Correctional Healthcare. The company name changes but the leadership stays the same.
So when I think of privatizing prison health care, I visualize Robert Boggon -- naked, strapped to a chair, alone and not realizing during his last few hours alive where he was.
Was the ballyhooed savings of privatization worth his life?
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
© Florida Voices