Prison reform is slated to be a big issue this upcoming legislative session, and a re-do of prison health care contracts will be part of the reform efforts. The new Florida Department of Corrections Secretary says she’s making progress on the issue—something lawmakers are keeping an eye on.
About a month ago, a very candid Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones gave a panel of lawmakers a report on the standard of prison health care provided by two private contractors.
“The standard of healthcare with our current providers is not at the level that’s required by their contracts, and we’re working very diligently with those two vendors to try to get the standard of care up to the level that’s required in those contracts,” said Jones, during a committee hearing last month.
She relayed that to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee chaired by Sen. Greg Evers (R-Baker), who’s visited a couple correctional facilities in the Florida Panhandle area.
He says after stopping by Santa Rosa Correctional Facility, it was clear to him the prison health care contracts needed to be re-bid because the health care was insufficient.
“That was the blatant thing that came up and slapped me in the face,” said Evers, speaking to reporters.
And, he says he’s heard of other stories at other correctional facilities across the state.
“There’s an issue when two inmates get into a fight, and one of the inmates has to go medical,” added Evers. “And, medical says, ‘Aw, just take him back and put him in his bunk. He’ll be alright’ Well, ultimately, you run into a situation where one of the guards is extremely upset about it, and he calls the warden, and the warden says, ‘call 911.’ I mean, to me, that’s a major issue.”
The prison system has come under intense scrutiny because of inmate deaths, alleged abuse by prison guards, and cover-ups. And, Sen. Evers says he has confidence the prison system can be fixed.
“To some extent, we are going to fix it,” said Evers. “Look, we’re only at 10,000 feet. We’ve got a long way to go before we hit the ground. And, it may not be a soft landing, but it will be a perfect landing when it comes in.”
In his capacity as chair of the committee, Evers has filed a bill that’s a comprehensive prison reform package aimed at revamping the current prison system, which includes a provision that inmates are provided with the necessary health care.
Jones recently announced she’s started the negotiations for the rebidding contract process, opening the door to potential new private vendors. The current two private prison health care providers, Wexford and Corizon, took over the state’s prison health care in 2013 after the issue got tied up in the courts for about two years. Unions had sued on behalf of thousands of employees who did not want to lose their state jobs.
Meanwhile, the new rebid contracts are expected to be worth $1.4 billion. It includes new services, like providing electronic health records, which Jones promised lawmakers she’d look into.
“As part of those contracts with those two vendors, there’s no provision for electronic medical records, and I’m in direct contact with both vendors in asking they consider that either in a rebid or in a new contract to make that a requirement, so yes, that is on our radar screen,” said Jones, last month.
She and Evers even exchanged some words at an earlier committee hearing, after he expressed disbelief that the private providers weren’t doing that already.
“Why would we have to renegotiate a contract? I mean, you would think that they would unhook and horse and buggy and put it in a barn, and be moved into the computer age,” asked Evers.
“I mean, Mr. Chairman, the vendors responded to me that there’s a significant cost associated with getting that implemented and those records scanned, and that would be part of something that would be an additional cost to the contract,” replied Jones.
Meanwhile, both Wexford and Corizon released statements, saying they’re on board with rebidding the contracts and will continue their services to the state’s correctional facilities throughout the negotiations.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.