On Monday, a Kansas legislative committee on corrections got answers to questions they should have been asking all along.
Rep. J. Russell Jennings, Chairman of the Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight, called the hearing after The Star detailed the nearly $2 billion Missouri and Kansas will pay to Corizon Health over a decade to provide health care to inmates.
Despite the cost to taxpayers, legislative oversight has been lax, particularly in Missouri. That needs to change.
The Tennessee-based company has been sued more than 280 times by inmates in Missouri and Kansas, which should be a red flag for lawmakers.
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In its defense, Corizon essentially argued that inmates are a litigious group and that the volume of medical malpractice lawsuits is not unusual. Tell that to the concerned family members and inmates, who reported everything from a missed cancer diagnosis to deaths of inmates believed to be preventable.
It’s up to the state to hold Corizon accountable by tracking how the money is spent and monitoring health outcomes for starters. Privatizing care does not absolve the state from its responsibilities.
At Jennings’ request, the Kansas Department of Corrections detailed how a University of Kansas Medical Center team conducts monthly reviews of the care being provided to the state’s approximately 9,800 inmates at a cost of about $68 million a year.
Jennings said he was satisfied that “robust detailed reviews” are conducted and that there are “definitely external eyes on the contract.”
The committee learned that Corizon was penalized more than $1.7 million in 2017 for infractions, including failing to meet staffing or compliance standards for mental health treatment.
Corizon has been sued 48 times in Kansas since 2014. So far, there have been no adjudications, settlements or findings against the state, the University of Kansas Medical Center or Corizon.
Kansas lawmakers and the Department of Corrections must continue to closely monitor Corizon’s data, looking for patterns and imposing appropriate penalties.
Missouri has been even less responsive. A state grant once paid a nursing professor to oversee the contract. But then Corizon was allowed to begin paying the fee. So the person who was scrutinizing Corizon was paid by Corizon.
A spokeswoman for the company pointed out that the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, an accreditation group, also oversees the firm’s work.
But two of the 10 trustees on the commission are Corizon executives, both based in Jefferson City.
Last year, Gov. Eric Greitens established a task force to reform the state’s corrections systems, taking on a wide range of issues with a focus on the overpopulation of inmates in prisons. In announcing the effort, Greitens issued a statement saying, “Our prison system wastes your money and it wastes people’s lives. We have to fix it.”
He’s right about that. Start with a thorough and public assessment of Corizon’s contract, and then hold the company accountable for its work.