The Price of Doing Business: Arizona Corrections Extends Contract with Inept Prison Medical Company

Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, like many politicians, is a big proponent of running government “like a business.” This resonates with many voters, who mistakenly think that the cutthroat winners-and-losers paradigm of the free market somehow benefits them (as they work three part-time jobs with no healthcare and send their kids to schools that don’t have enough books).

Nowhere are the risks and consequences of this model more apparent than in the privatization of prisons and correctional services. Case in point: Arizona’s contract with Corizon, a for-profit prison medical corporation.

In 2012, the ACLU brought a class action lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) and Corizon over denial of specialty care, long delays, and a host of other problems resulting in numerous deaths. In 2015, they reached a settlement that included compliance monitoring. Three years later, ADC and Corizon have failed to meet the more than 100 stipulations agreed to in the settlement and a federal judge is threatening to fine the state millions of dollars.

These costs come on top of the millions that taxpayers are already shelling out to this company. Corizon is paid a per diem of $12.54 for each of roughly 35,000 inmates in the state’s prisons–nearly $450,000 per day in gross income.

Any business faced with such monumental failure would fire the contractor immediately. Yet, despite clear evidence that Corizon is in violation of its contract, is responsible for numerous preventable deaths, and is bleeding the state dry through legal fees, the state just extended its contract for another year.

Why? Because Arizona knows from experience that just switching contractors does not improve outcomes. Corizon was handed the contract after the failure of another for-profit prison medical provider, Wexford.

The bottom line: The profit motive is inherently at odds with the essential functions of corrections. For-profit businesses act in the interest of the corporation, its CEO, and its shareholders. If, for the second time, Arizona fired one for-profit prison medical company and hired another, the results would be the same.

Government is not a business. It was created to protect us, to serve the people, and to regulate institutions (and businesses) for the greater good of society. Business exists to produce profit. There are times when those two objectives can coexist in harmony. But the criminal justice system is not one of them.

Caroline Isaacs, AFSC-Arizona Program Director

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