Pick 6 (4/17/15)

Views from 6

Hi friends. Again it is Friday, so again it is time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome any and all thoughts or feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) John Legend Launches Campaign to End Mass Incarceration (AP)

From the AP: “John Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration. The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday…”We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country,” Legend said in an interview. “It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration…I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.”

2.) Are you running for President? Please answer these questions about the criminal justice system. (Washington Post)

Thus far, Hilary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), Marco Rubio (R), and Rand Paul (R) have announced their candidacies for President of the United States. Radley Balko, author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” has strung together a “quick and dirty list of [criminal justice related] questions” that he’d like to see 2016 Presidential candidates answer.

3.) Federal Prosecutor Tries a Radical Tactic in the Drug War: Not Throwing People in Prison (Huffington Post)

“[South Carolina’s top] U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration…If the program’s success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country…Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea. While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project. The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.”

4.) Driver’s License Suspension Create Cycle of Debt (New York Times)

“The last time Kenneth Seay lost his job, at an industrial bakery that offered health insurance and Christmas bonuses, it was because he had been thrown in jail for legal issues stemming from a revoked driver’s license. Same with the three jobs before that. In fact, Mr. Seay said, when it comes to gainful employment, it is not his criminal record that is holding him back — he did time for dealing drugs — but the $4,509.22 in fines, court costs and reinstatement fees he must pay to recover his license. Mr. Seay’s inability to pay those costs has trapped him in a cycle that thousands of other low-income Tennesseans are struggling to escape. Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay. As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. In Tennessee, almost 90,000 driver’s licenses have been suspended since its law was enacted in 2011…Many defendants are forced to choose between paying court debt or essentials like utility bills and child support. Mr. Seay said his tax refund this year went toward child support debt accumulated during his time in prison and periods of unemployment. For even low-level offenders, debt can make a valid license unattainable…In Tennessee, judges have the discretion to waive court fees and fines for indigent defendants, but they do not have to, and some routinely refuse. Judges also have wide discretion over how much time to allow defendants to pay traffic tickets before suspending a license.”

5.) The Legal Right to Videotape Police Isn’t Actually All that Clear (City Lab)

From The Atlantic’s City Lab: “Last Saturday, a Dominican immigrant named Feidin Santana used his phone to record video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager firing his gun eight times and killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away. Slager has been charged with murder. Santana, who is being celebrated as a hero, has since said that he was terrified and thought about erasing the video. He had reason to be afraid. What if police had assaulted or arrested Santana, or destroyed his phone?…[T]he truth is that courts have not uniformly recognized that a right to record police actually exists. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed its support for the right to record, only four federal appeals courts have ruled that such a right exists; others have either not ruled at all or narrowly ruled that no right had been “clearly established.” Until a right to record police is in fact clearly established, some officers will continue to act against bystanders who record them with impunity.” (Related: California Senate seeks to clarify right to video police conduct)

6.) D.C. Council rejects Corizon Health contract after lobbying battle (Washington Post)

Last month, R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor blogged about the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare. Dominik specifically mentioned Corizon Health’s failings in Alabama and in Alameda County, California. Our last Pick this week is an update on Corizon Health and the movement to improve healthcare for incarcerated people. From the Washington Post: “The D.C. Council on Tuesday rejected a controversial health-care contract proposed for the city’s jail after weeks of fierce arguments and heavy lobbying by supporters and opponents. The council’s 6-to-5 vote against a $66 million proposal by Corizon Health marked a high-profile defeat for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who had supported the contract….Contract opponents cast the decision as a victory for inmate care and a rejection of a company mired in legal troubles in other states, including several high-profile wrongful-death lawsuits. David Grosso (I) said that if getting the best possible care for the city’s inmates is the objective, then “contracting with a for-profit, scandal-prone company is not the way for us to get there.” 

Report of the week) Stop and Frisk in Chicago (ACLU of Illinois)

From the executive summary of our report of the week: “Chicago has failed to train, supervise and monitor law enforcement in minority communities for decades, resulting in a failure to ensure that officers’ use of stop and frisk is lawful. This report contains troubling signs that the Chicago Police Department has a current practice of unlawfully using stop and frisk: Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop. Stop and frisk is disproportionately concentrated in the black community. Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. And, even in majority white police districts, minorities were stopped disproportionately to the number of minority people living in those districts. Chicago stops a shocking number of people. Last summer, there were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice. In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers’ stops…This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them.”

Extra of the week) Letter from Birmingham Jail (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

52 years ago this week (4/16/1963) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.The letter defends his strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. King declares that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws, and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. King famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Related: What if MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Had Been a Facebook Post?)

Take a few moments this weekend to read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Or if your prefer, here is audio of King reading the letter. Enjoy. #BlackLivesMatter

Pick 6 (3/6/2015)

pick 6

Hello friends. Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy! And Happy Women’s History Month, by the way!

1.) 50 years after Bloody Sunday, Voting Rights Are under Attack (The Nation)

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. But even as President Obama and former President George W. Bush travel to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, voting rights are still under attack in 2015. As Ari Berman writes, from 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states (Idaho being the lone exception). 25 states have adopted measures making it harder to vote. And due to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, the states with the worst histories of voter discrimination (such as Alabama), no longer have to obtain “federal preclearance” before implementing changes to their voting laws or practices. With the anniversary of Bloody Sunday nearing, Berman reports that Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Selma recently told him, “My hope is that . . . people will recommit themselves to restore the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act . . . the biggest tribute that we can give to those [Bloody Sunday marchers] is fully restoring the Voting Rights Act.”

2.) The 12 key highlights from the DOJ’s scathing Ferguson report (Washington Post)

Seven months after Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, the U.S. Department of Justice has released a report into policing and court practices in Ferguson. DOJ investigators determined that “in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system,” African Americans are disparately impacted. DOJ’s report details frequent Fourth Amendment violations, stunning racial disparities in police traffic stops and use of force, and a law enforcement system that is shaped by “revenue rather than by public safety needs.” Despite only making up 67% of Ferguson’s population, African Americans accounted for 85% of police stop, 90% of traffic citations, and 93% of arrests from 2012-2014. The DOJ report states that “our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans.” You can read the full DOJ report here.

3.) Out of Trouble, but Criminal Records Keep Me Out of Work (New York Times)

Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times chronicles the story of Michael Hugh Mirsky, a formerly incarcerated New Jersey resident, whose story is representative of the plight faced by millions of formerly incarcerated Americans. Appelbaum writes that, “The reluctance of employers to hire people with criminal records combined with laws that place broad categories of jobs off-limits, is not just a frustration for men [and women] like Mr. Mirsky; it is also taking a toll on the broader economy. It is preventing millions of American men from becoming, in that old phrase, productive members of society.”

4.) WH Task Force: All police shootings should be independently review (Washington Post)

A report by a White House Task Force charged with investigating and probing the strained and deteriorated relationship between police and the communities that they ostensibly protect was delivered to President Obama on Monday. The report calls for independent review of all police shootings, more body cameras on police officers, re-training for most officers, greater transparency by police departments (including better record keeping about police use of force), and an acknowledgement by law enforcement of “the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.”

5.) Dying inmates may appeal court decisions against early release (Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that dying prisoners may appeal a judge’s decision refusing them an early release (known as a “compassionate release”). This ruling by California’s high court overturns an appellate court decision that held that only the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the parole board could challenge a trial court’s decision to deny compassionate release to an inmate. California requires that any inmate requesting compassionate release have a doctor’s report stating that the inmate has fewer than six months to live (amongst other requirements).

6.) NYU Launches Prison Education Program Backed by Ford Foundation Grant (Newswise)

New York University has recently launched an initiative to bring college education to incarcerated individuals at Wallkill Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York. Through a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, NYU’s Prison Education Program (PEP) will allow incarcerated students to earn credits towards an Associate of Arts degree from NYU. Once released, the students will be able continue their education at NYU or transfer their credits to another institution. This spring, the PEP program has 36 students enrolled. These students will have an option of taking five courses that “offer both intensive liberal arts study and introductory courses from NYU’s professional schools.”

Audio of the week: High Hurdle to College for Ex-Offenders (WNYC & The Marshall Project)

Check out this short podcast and the accompanying article. This joint effort by WNYC and The Marshall Project details a “Ban the Box” campaign to prevent colleges from asking applicants whether they have a criminal record. Currently, over half of the nation’s colleges ask applicants whether or not they have ever been convicted of a crime. This podcast/article describes the work of the non-profit Center for Community Alternatives, which argues that asking applicants about their criminal history “discourage[s] would-be applicants who feel stigmatized, and is often the precursor to an applicant process full of extra hurdles for people with records.”

Bonus: Selma still struggling with social segregation, unemployment & crime 50 years after Bloody Sunday (al.com)

50 years after Bloody Sunday, the fight against segregation and discrimination is still not over in Selma, Alabama. As one Selma native puts it, “There’s still a residue of segregation, or a ‘my side of town, your side of town,” [the population of west Selma remains almost entirely white, while the east side’s population is almost entirely black] . . . The events that happened in Selma (on Bloody Sunday) make it more of a contradiction because this should be more of a utopian society for blacks and whites.” As Conner Sheets of al.com reports, “not only is the populace of Selma effectively segregated geographically, but the city’s residents still mostly segregate themselves in social settings as well.” White flight and the exodus of once booming industry have “left most of the city’s remaining black population struggling to achieve upward mobility and start businesses and families . . . many residents are still suffering from the wounds inflicted during the Jim Crow era, which are still visible today in the sorry state of Selma’s public schools, crime rate and economic vitality.”

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, let us not forget that we still have so much more work to do . . .

For Selma (by Langston Hughes)

In places like
Selma, Alabama,
Kids say,
In places like
Chicago and New York…
In places like
Chicago and New York
Kids say,
In places like
London and Paris…
In places like
London and Paris
Kids say,
In places like
Chicago and New York…

Profiting from Failure: Corizon Health, Inc., Martin Harrison and the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare

Santa Rita jail where Martin Harrison died. Copyright: The Wall Street Journal

Santa Rita jail where Martin Harrison died. Copyright: The Wall Street Journal

By: Dominik Taylor

“Martin Harrison’s legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country. His family . . . was committed to making sure that Martin’s death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.”[1] – Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Harrison family

On Tuesday, February 10th, 2015, the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in the history of California was reached. The parties to this settlement were the family of Martin Harrison (the plaintiffs) and Alameda County, California and Corizon Health, Inc. (the co-defendants).[2]

Defendant Alameda County is the San Francisco Bay Area county that includes Oakland, Berkeley, and Hayward, amongst several other cities. Alameda is home to over 1.5 million residents.

But who was Martin Harrison? Who or what is Alameda’s co-defendant, Corizon Health, Inc.?

Martin Harrison died on August 2010 at the age of 50. Harrison died two days after he was severely beaten and tased by ten Santa Rita Jail deputies in Alameda County.[3]

Corizon is one of the largest for-profit prison healthcare providers in the United States.[4] Corizon, a privately held corporation, operates in 27 states and services more than 345,000 inmates.[5]

Among the jails that Corizon services is Alameda’s Santa Rita Jail. In February 2013, Alameda County awarded Corizon a three-year contract extension worth $210 million.[6] Corizon and its predecessors have operated within Alameda County for last 27 years, and Corizon is responsible for overseeing the 3400 inmates in Alameda’s two jails, Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer.[7]

Harrison was held at Santa Rita Jail following an August 13, 2010 arrest for jaywalking and for having an outstanding warrant stemming from a failure to appear in court on a prior DUI charge.[8]

The State of California requires prison healthcare contractors to provide Registered Nurses (RNs) to assess inmates upon intake. However, instead of an RN, an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse (LVN) conducted Harrison’s intake screening.[9] While RNs hold professional nursing degrees, LVNs only hold a “practical” degree to provide basic nursing care. LVNs usually work under the supervision of an RN or physician. Healthcare providers, such as Corizon, can pay LVNs substantially less money than RNs, as LVNS do not have as much educational experience or training.

According to the Harrison family’s attorneys, Harrison told the LVN that he drank everyday and that he had a history of alcohol withdrawal.[10] Despite his repeated requests for treatment, the LVN decided that Harrison was not at risk of alcohol withdrawal. Instead of receiving medical treatment, the LVN sent Harrison to a jail cell.

While in his cell at Santa Rita, Harrison began hallucinating due to a severe form of alcohol poisoning, known as delirium tremens.[11] According to the National Health Institute, medical attention and immediate hospitalization is required for someone suffering from delirium tremens.[12] No treatment was provided for Harrison, however. He remained in his cell. For three days, he was frequently heard screaming. He was left in his cell screaming and going through withdrawals until August 16, 2010.[13] On that day, at around 6:30 p.m., deputies attempted to move Harrison to another cell.[14]

Harrison resisted as a deputy tried to usher him out of the cell. In response, the deputy Tased Harrison. The deputy then called for backup. Several other deputies—ten in total—rushed over to Harrison and repeatedly kicked, punched, and Tased him.[15] After severely beating Harrison, the officers placed Harrison in leg shackles and handcuffs.

Shortly after the beating, while a nurse was examining Harrison, he became unresponsive.[16] Harrison never regained consciousness. Two days later, Harrison died. Cause of death: “cardiac arrest following excessive exertion, multiple blunt injuries and Tasering.”[17]

As part of the settlement with the Harrison family, Corizon announced that it will stop employing LVNs to complete tasks that California law mandates that RNs perform. According the Harrison family’s attorneys, Corizon saved 35% in costs for every LVN Corizon enlisted to perform duties that RNs should be performing.[18]

Corizon also agreed to employ RNs to perform inmate screenings at all of the other California facilities that it operates it. Corizon currently has contracts in four California counties (Alameda, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Tulare).[19] Lastly, Corizon expressed a desire to ensure that it provides a better standard of care to inmates. U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tiger will monitor Corizon and Alameda for at least the next four years to ensure that they are complying with the terms of the settlement.

Harrison’s case is an archetype of why our nation’s prisons and jails need to provide better healthcare. Harrison never should have been sent to a jail cell. He should have, instead, received immediate medical attention for alcohol withdrawal. Mr. Harrison’s death was not in vain though, as prison reform will ostensibly be implemented in the four California counties where Corizon operates.

Unfortunately, news of a settlement in this case in is no way the end of the battle for better quality—and simply put, more humane—prisoner healthcare. The Harrison family settlement is just the latest battle in long war to reform America’s prisons and to obtain the adequate healthcare that all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed.

In Estelle v. Gamble, a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court affirmed that prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate medical attention, and that the Eighth Amendment is violated when prisons and jails display “deliberate indifference” to an inmate’s medical needs.[20]

Writing for the Court in Estelle, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated: “An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death’ . . . In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose . . . The infliction of such unnecessary suffering is inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency as manifested in modern legislation.”

After the Harrison family settlement was reached, Alameda County Sherriff Greg Ahern was quoted as saying, “Things could have been done better and we are very sad it resulted in an inmate death.”[21] But Ahern also said that Corizon has done “a fantastic job” at Santa Rita.[22] Again, this was right after a Santa Rita inmate named Martin Harrison died… and the county sheriff publicly stated that Corizon has done a “fantastic job?” Really?

A man had just died and the county was protecting its corporate friend, not human beings. This response points to why the close relationships between corporations like Corizon and state and local governments must be stopped. To understand the depth to which the bottom-line and profit driven Corizon has no business running the healthcare system in our jails, let’s take a look at another state. A state where Corizon has a heavy presence as the holder of a lucrative contract to provide healthcare to prisons and jails. That state is Alabama.

For the last two and a half years, the Alabama Department of Corrections has contracted with Corizon. Prior to that, Alabama contracted with Corizon’s predecessor, Correctional Medical Services, from 2007-2012. On February 9, 2015, Corizon announced that Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) approved a renewal of Corizon’s $224 million contract.[23] This contract extension brings the contract’s total cost up to $405 million, a staggering amount.[24] Despite the re-upping of the contract between Alabama’s DOC and Corizon, it cannot be said that Corizon has done anything close to a “fantastic job” in Alabama, where Corizon is responsible for providing healthcare to the State’s 25,100 inmates.

As revealed in May 2013, Alabama actually gave Corizon failing marks on an internal audit of the healthcare provider’s job in Alabama facilities.[25] Despite the failing grades, Alabama still extended Corizon’s contract through September 2017. And Alabama isn’t the only state where Corizon has failed internal audits. In 2014, the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections threatened to withhold payment of a five-year, $1.2 billion contract, because Corizon “continues to fall below the contractually required standard.”[26] Audits of Corizon in Florida showed that Corizon was providing deficient medical care, nursing, and administration.[27] Corizon has also been subject to lawsuits in Georgia, New York, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington D.C., and has been accused of providing deficient healthcare in Mississippi and Maine.

On June 17, 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC), alleging that ADOC is violating federal laws by ignoring the medical and mental health needs of prisoners.[28] The class action lawsuit contains 40 named plaintiffs who allege that ADOC failed to provide adequate health care, and that this failure constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.[29] Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that, due to ADOC’s “deliberate indifference,” Alabama prisoners oftentimes go for months without appropriate diagnoses, and that prisoners have died because they were not treated for condition such as diabetes and cancer.[30]

The SPLC lawsuit isn’t for the faint of heart. SPLC has reported that numerous Alabama prisoners have had toes, feet, and legs amputated as a result of receiving poor diabetes treatment.[31] SPLC also reported staph outbreaks, scabies outbreaks, raw sewage being allowed to leak into a facility, and that a prison guard was allowed to continue working, despite the fact that he had TB.[32] The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2016.

Corizon is not a named defendant in the SPLC lawsuit. But Corizon is paying for prominent Alabama-based law firm Maynard Cooper & Gale to defend the State of Alabama in the lawsuit.[33] Under the terms of Corizon’s contract with the State, Corizon must pay for any litigation resulting from Corizon’s provision of healthcare in Alabama prisons and jails.[34] Of course, both ADOC and Corizon dispute the claims made in SPLC’s lawsuit. [On an interesting yet seemingly unrelated note, Maynard Cooper & Gale announced in August 2014 that it was opening its first office outside of Alabama. That office is in San Francisco.[35]]

In California, Corizon saved 35% costs by tasking LVNs—instead of RNs—to conduct inmate intakes. Corizon’s cost-saving policy led to Martin Harrison being placed in a jail cell, instead of in a hospital bed. After being trapped in his cell for three days and suffering from alcohol withdrawals, Santa Rita deputies literally beat Harrison to death. Despite Harrison’s death, Alameda renewed its contract with Corizon in 2013.

Through continuing it relationship with Corizon—despite the Harrison family lawsuit—Alameda County, just like the state of Alabama, is placing inmates at risk of pain and suffering in arguably unconstitutional conditions. Simply put, Corizon is placing profits over people. Yes, private corporations place profits over people on a daily basis. But if a private corporation makes hundreds of millions of dollars off government contracts, as Corizon does, isn’t it fair to expect that the company do a “fantastic job?” Certainly, corporations like Corizon must at least be expected to pass internal audits, right? Apparently not.

Over the last two decades, private for-profit healthcare providers, such as Corizon, have continually struck lucrative deals with state and local governments.[36] This is as, prison healthcare has become increasingly privatized by state and local governments in an effort to cut costs while meeting the requirements of Estelle. Corizon makes over $1.5 billion annually from its revenue and contracts with state and local governments.[37] Corizon frequently employs cost-cutting measures to ensure that it maximizes its potential revenue. Corizon’s cost-cutting is partially responsible for the death of Martin Harrison. Corizon’s cost-cutting and lack of responsiveness are part of the reason Alabama’s Department of Corrections is being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

As noted in a 2014 report by the non-profit Prison Legal News, “When Corizon compromises medical care to save money, such as curtailing the use of ambulances for emergency transports, reducing the number of on-site doctors or sending fewer prisoners to outside hospitals for needed treatment, government officials typically fail to take corrective action and deny responsibility for the resultant deaths and injuries.”[38]

Alameda County and Alabama DOC’s continued relationships with Corizon serve as perfect examples of state and local governments denying responsibility and failing to take corrective action for the deaths and injuries that have resulted from Corizon’s substandard, shoddy, and frankly unacceptable healthcare services.

Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Harrison family, stated, “Martin Harrison’s legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country. His family . . . was committed to making sure that Martin’s death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.”

The Harrison family’s settlement cannot be deemed a complete success. The Harrison family settlement is just the latest battle in long war to reform America’s prisons and to obtain the adequate healthcare that all prisoners are constitutionally guaranteed.

A record-breaking settlement in the Harrison case and SPLC’s lawsuit against ADOC should be used as a springboards for concerned tax-paying citizens and prison reform advocates to start a more serious, focused discussion on the provision of healthcare in prisons and on the lack of responsibility demonstrated by state and local governments in doling out prison healthcare contracts. Serious questions need to be asked and state and local governments must be held accountable. Private for-profit prison healthcare providers must be held accountable.

It all boils down to this: As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in Estelle, prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate healthcare. If state and local governments are going to contract with for-profit private corporations to provide prisoner healthcare, then it is absolutely imperative that those corporations deliver the care that prisoners are constitutionally entitled to. If providers, such as Corizon, continuously fail time after time, in county after county, and state after state, then state and local governments must end their relationships with these corporations.

Alameda County and Corizon are splitting the cost of the $8.3 million settlement with the Harrison family. That’s $4.15 million a piece. Martin Harrison is dead as the result of Corizon’s cost-cutting measures and a lack of oversight or responsibility by Alameda County. Instead of splitting the cost of a settlement, it’s fair to wonder whether a better solution would be for Alameda County to ditch Corizon completely. Alameda County is responsible for ensuring that its prisoners receive the adequate healthcare that they are constitutionally entitled to. If Alameda County and counties like it across the county do not take this responsibility seriously, then it is up to us to demand they do so.

[1] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[2] According to the Contra Costa Times, in a separate 2013 lawsuit, Alameda County and Corizon Health, Inc. settled with Martin Harrison’s fifth child (a minor).

[3] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[4] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/11/usa-prison-settlement-idUSL1N0VK2H620150211

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/11/usa-prison-settlement-idUSL1N0VK2H620150211

[6] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[7] http://www.corizonhealth.com/Corizon-News/corizon-awarded-alameda-county-contract-extension

[8] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/8-3-million-settlement-in-death-of-Alameda-6073319.php

[9] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[10] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/8-3-million-settlement-in-death-of-Alameda-6073319.php

[11] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[12] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000766.htm

[13] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[14] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[15] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[16] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[17] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[18] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[19] http://www.corizonhealth.com/About-Corizon/Locations

[20] 429 U.S. 97

[21] http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_27500344/alameda-county-8-3-million-jail-death-settlement

[22] http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/10/alameda-county-jail-health-care-company-settle-suit-over-inmate-beating-death

[23] http://www.corizonhealth.com/Corizon-News/alabama-department-of-corrections-renews-contract-with-corizon-health

[24] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/02/alabama_department_of_correcti_1.html

[26] http://www.northescambia.com/2014/09/florida-dept-of-corrections-targets-problems-with-inmate-health-care

[27] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/alabamas_inmate_health_care_su.html

[28] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[29] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[30] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/splc_story_on_inmate_health_ca.html

[31] http://media.al.com/news_impact/other/Alabama%20Prison%20Report_final.pdf

[32] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/06/cruel_confinement_report_packe.html

[33] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/powerful_law_firm_to_defend_al.html

[34] http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/08/powerful_law_firm_to_defend_al.html

[35] http://www.bizjournals.com/birmingham/news/2014/08/13/four-questions-with-maynard-cooper-s-managing.html?page=all

[36] http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/Assets/2014/07/StatePrisonHealthCareSpendingReport.pdf

[37] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/mar/15/corizon-needs-a-checkup-problems-with-privatized-correctional-healthcare/

[38] https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/mar/15/corizon-needs-a-checkup-problems-with-privatized-correctional-healthcare/

Weekly Pick 6 (2/13/15)

pick 6

Hello friends. We’re back with the second edition of our new weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names (New York Times)

In this article, Campell Robertson discusses some findings from a newly published report by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative entitled: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. EJI’s report documents lynching in twelve Southern states from the time of Reconstruction to the end of World War II. The report makes the case that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism and a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation.

2.) Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System (Hands Up United)

Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute has said, “The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used.” In this commentary, Michelle Alexander, famed author of, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, argues that one way to end mass incarceration is by “crashing the system.” Alexander writes, “If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation….Such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the agenda for politicians and policy makers, leaving them only two viable options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases filed…or amend the Constitution…Either action would create a crisis and the system would crash.”

3.) High School Police Ask Judge to Let Them Pepper-Spray and Arrest Unruly Students (Mother Jones)

Since 2006, there have been at least 110 instances where school police officers (called School Resource Officers or SROs) have pepper-sprayed school students in Birmingham, Alabama. A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center has brought up the issue of whether such practices are constitutional. Of the policy allowing officers to pepper-spray students, Ebony Howard of the SPLC says, “We want it to be declared unconstitutional because it allows officers to spray people, specifically students, without considering a wide variety of factors—such as whether they are in a school environment, the fact that they are in a closed environment, and the fact that these things that they are accusing kids of doing and acting on are actually just student misconduct issues.” Allie Gross of Mother Jones describes the pepper-spraying of Birmingham students as well as the rise of police presence in schools since the mid-1990s.

Related: be sure to check out R&R’s previous blog entry, “Why the Teacher’s Protection Act is Deadly to Students,” for another example of how, since the 1990s, public school systems have become increasingly militant.

4.) Alameda County: $8.3 million jail death settlement mandates jail health care reforms (Contra Costa Times)

Malaika Fraley of the Contra Costa Times reports that a record-breaking settlement has been reached in the case of an Oakland, California man, Martin Harrison, who died after being beaten to death and tased by Santa Rita Jail deputies. Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors and its jail medical services provider, Corizon Health, have agreed to pay $8.3 to the family of Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison died in August of 2010 while incarcerated at Santa Rita, just two days after he was beaten and tased by 10 deputies.

5.) Missouri cities, including Ferguson, sued over ‘grotesque’ jail conditions (Los Angeles Times)

Matt Pierce of the LA Times writes about two recently-filed lawsuits against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri. Pierce writes that the lawsuits accuse the cities of “maintaining ‘grotesque’ jail conditions for motorists locked up because they couldn’t pay fines for minor legal infractions . . . crowded cells are smeared with mucus, blood and fecal matter and inmates are denied basic hygiene supplies and medical care.” Ferguson is the city where unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot in August 2014.

6.) Gov. Pat McCrory says brothers’ pardon still being reviewed (News and Observer)

Our sixth pick this week is actually an update of a story we told you about last week. Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were recently exonerated or murder after serving three decades in a North Carolina prison following a wrongful conviction. The two brothers were exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. But following their exoneration, McCollum and Brown are left without any ability to collect compensation for the time they spend incarcerated absent a pardon from the state’s governor. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office is currently “conducting a formal an thorough process that will lead to a recommendation” of whether or not McCollum and Brown should receive a pardon. If the men receive a pardon, they will be eligible to receive $50,000 for every year they spent incarcerated (up to a max of $750,000). McCollum and Brown spent their entire adult lives in prison and have IQ scores in the 50s and 60s. The two men struggle with reading and writing. We will keep you updated on this story.

— The R&R Team