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Prison officials deny any problems with privatized care. Richard Pratt, the interim director of the health services division of Arizona’s Department of Corrections, told “America Tonight” that staffing levels since privatization were “basically the same.”
“Corizon staffing levels have been coming up on a monthly basis to the point even last month the hours that they were working with their existing staff exceeded the contract requirements,” he said.
He also denied there was a scabies outbreak, as Teresa Short had charged.
But Pratt emphasized that privatizing health care wasn’t a decision made by the Department of Corrections.
“It was legislated and mandated and it was the law,” he said. “So we were forced to do this.”
Legislators who supported the privatization promised that it would save taxpayers money, while maintaining adequate levels of care for inmates. The majority of states have privatized prison health care, rewarding private companies for keeping costs down.
“I mean, people die in prisons,” said state Rep. John Kavanagh, who wrote the legislation that privatized the state’s prison health care. “I receive a lot of handwritten notes from prisoners. I receive emails from prison families with all sorts of allegations of crazy behavior. And then, you call the prison people up and they usually have a reasonable explanation for it.”
Kavanagh said Clarine’s story about being treated with sugar didn’t seem like a “true allegation,” adding that it “sounds ridiculous.”
“You know prisoners have 24/7 to think up allegations and write letters,” he said. “I'm not saying that some of them can't have a basis in fact. But you got to take them with a grain of salt or in the case of the hospital, with maybe a grain of sugar.”
Kavanagh was also dismissive of the ACLU lawsuit. “I think most people who get into [class-action lawsuits] wind up with nothing and the lawyers walk away in limousines with their trunks full of cash,” he said.
Before Tony Brown’s death, Wexford was already coming under fire after a contract nurse exposed more than 100 inmates to hepatitis C by using dirty needles to deliver medication, according to the Department of Corrections. Four months later, Arizona severed ties with Wexford and awarded the three-year, $369 million contract to Corizon, which has similar contracts in 28 states, according to its website. But it has faced problems in many of them; in the last five years, Corizon has been sued for malpractice 660 times.
Arizona Democratic House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said the Legislature didn't properly vet Corizon before signing the contract.
“No bid. Nothing,” he said. “It was deemed an emergency situation by Department of Corrections so they didn't have to go through the normal process.”
Campbell also noted that Corizon had just hired the former head of the Department of Corrections, who was the mentor of the current head of the department.
That’s not the only tie that members of the state government have to private prisons. Charles Coughlin, the former campaign strategist for Gov. Jan Brewer, runs a lobbying firm called HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, which represented one of the country’s largest private prison companies. HighGround donated $5,000 to Jan PAC, Brewer's super PAC.
Then in late March, Kavanagh allocated $900,000 in state funding to the private prison company GEO Group Inc., even though the Department of Corrections said it wasn’t needed, according to the Arizona Republic.
“They're profiting on taxpayer dollars and to me, if I'm going to hand out money to a private entity, I want to make sure it's being spent wisely,” said Campbell, who is now calling for an investigation.
The governor's office declined a request from “America Tonight” for an interview and referred us back to Kavanagh, who said the allegations that Brewer accepted bids because of personal relationships were “baseless.”
“I think they're propaganda,” he said. “I mean, people say to me I've gotten campaign contributions from private-prison people. Well, yeah. I got from a lobbyist who represents them but that lobbyist also represents 40 other clients in different industries. It's smoke and mirrors. It's a façade.”
In the meantime, allegations of wrongdoing continue to mount. According to the American Friends Service Committee report, an inmate at the Whetstone Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex tested positive for tuberculosis in August. But Corizon did not test other prisoners, even those who were doing community service outside the complex.
Earlier this month, Regan Clarine completed her sentence. “America Tonight” met her as she was released into the waiting arms of her father, Paul.
“It’s one of the happiest days of our life,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll never have to do this again.”
They drove to a nearby hotel to reunite with the rest of the family, including her 11-month-old daughter, Rylan.
They’d met a handful of times on brief prison visits, but Rylan didn’t recognize her mother. Still, Clarine was happy to see her so healthy.
She responded to Kavanagh’s allegation that she was probably making up her story with a laugh, saying, “That’s crazy. I don’t think I could even come up with something like that … Sugar?”
To add insult to injury, her mother, Lori, said the prison has billed her $2,000 for Rylan’s birth. She is disputing the charges but fears it could hurt her credit if she doesn’t pay them. She says privatized prison health care simply isn’t working.
“You know, she got her just punishment,” Lori said. “But, oh my goodness, they're still human beings. Take care of them.”