Florida will be allowed to outsource its prison health care system to a private contractor, the First District Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday. The privatization plan was blocked by a judge last year, after a lower court found that the state Department of Corrections had circumvented the legislative process. Another judge killed the plan in 2011 because some state lawmakers had tried to sneak privatization through a budget rather than attempt to pass a bill explicitly about prison health care.
It’s no wonder Florida officials have tried to downplay the privatization plan. Private prison contractors have become popular with many Republican lawmakers across the country because of their promises to cut costs. But these companies also often cut corners to increase their own profits, leading to abysmal conditions, inmate abuse, and frequent riots.
Private health care companies have especially bad records on inmate treatment. Nightmarish stories of inmates dying from treatable diseases because they were refused care are frighteningly common in prisons that have outsourced their healthcare. One of the largest prison health care providers, Correctional Medical Care, is under criminal investigation in New York after its negligence led to nine deaths.
Other states with private prison health care can forecast the conditions Florida inmates will now face. A Kaiser report on these systems found “inhumane” conditions, with terminally ill inmates left in soiled linens without food or water for days. One Arizona man with lung cancer begged for treatment, only to be told by medical staff that he should drink energy shakes to cure his symptoms. Others who have begged for medical aid have been told they were simply making it up or that they should “pray to be cured.”
Florida has already privatized several prisons entirely, with terrible consequences. One prisoner, Robert Boggon, was sent to jail after suffering a mental episode in a Dollar Tree store. Boggon never received a psychiatric evaluation even though he was rocking on the floor of his cell and urinating on himself. After 11 days in jail, Boggon was found dead, naked, and strapped to an emergency restraint chair with a towel around his head in his cell in the jail infirmary. The death was ruled a homicide, but the medical examiner placed the blame on no one.
Moreover, Gov. Rick Scott’s claims that privatization saves the state money have not lived up to their promise. However, private prison companies have donated heavily to Florida lawmakers to ensure they continue to back privatization. The industry donated nearly $1 million to mostly Republican campaigns in 2010, and have already padded Scott’s re-election campaign with more than $100,000.