The ‘Unsavory Ways’ of Some Private Prison Contractors

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Many companies that provide services and products to government prisons provide necessary equipment and services, but some do so in rather unsavory ways, says The New Yorker. Take the prison phone industry, a market dominated by several large, privately held firms that earn an estimated $1.2 billion per year. Short phone calls from prison can cost up to fifteen dollars, largely because the companies operate as monopolies within prison walls. Some jails have removed in-person family-visitation rooms to make way for “video visitation” terminals, provided by private firms, which can charge as much as thirty dollars for forty minutes of screen time. “In some respects, this is worse than the private prison companies,” said Peter Wagner of the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative. “I expect the government to waste money. But it’s totally different for the government to collude with a private company to make poor people lose money.”

Corizon Health is the nation’s largest prison health-care firm. It treats more than three hundred thousand prisoners, earning about $1.4 billion in annual revenue. It is the subject of numerous investigations, and is a defendant in at least 660 malpractice lawsuits over five years, says the American Civil Liberties Union. Last year, the company paid a $8.3 million settlement to the family of Martin Harrison, an Alameda County, Ca., jail inmate who died, the plaintiffs charged, in part because of medical neglect. The lawsuit showed that Corizon, in a bid to cut costs, used licensed practical nurses to assess inmates at intake, a job that California law requires registered nurses to do. A court-ordered investigation of Corizon in Idaho found “inhumane” conditions in a prison where terminally ill inmates were left for periods without food or water and slept in soiled linens. “How does this for-profit prison healthcare company keep its costs low and profits high?” the ACLU asks. “By failing to provide sick prisoners with needed care.”

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