The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 this month to terminate its contract with Corizon Health Care, the for-profit provider of medical services at Alameda County jails.
This is welcome news. Just recently, I had to ask a judge to release a defendant detained at Santa Rita Jail. My client had lost his right hand in an explosion. At Santa Rita Jail, he was not taken to surgery (even though the doctors at Corizon acknowledged that surgery was necessary). He was not given physical therapy. He was not even prescribed pain medication. The staff at Corizon simply came around from time to time to change a gauze wrap that covered his mangled hand.
He was far from my first client whose health issues were ignored. The problem is that the doctors and nurses at Santa Rita Jail are not public servants paid a salary for their work. Rather, Alameda County has farmed out health care at its correctional facilities to a for-profit contractor, Corizon. This is not capitalism – it’s crony capitalism. If an inmate is dissatisfied, he can’t take his business elsewhere. He’s in jail. Corizon is a state-sponsored monopoly that maximizes its profits by spending as little as possible on health care.
When the government chooses to take an individual into custody and strip him of his freedoms, it assumes a concomitant obligation to provide for his medical needs. The failure of the government to provide adequate medical care to inmates and pretrial detainees is a denial of federal constitutional rights.
I applaud the county for ending its shameful relationship with Corizon. But I am worried because the county is simply replacing Corizon with another for-profit company (California Forensic Medical Group). The same problems of cutting corners in order to maximize profits are likely to reoccur. We should ask the Board of Supervisors to stop delegating essential government functions to private contractors.