For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Arizona Prison Watcher: January 2015


Margaret J. Plews, Editor

January 13, 2015

New Year’s Greetings to those behind bars in the AZDOC:

This may well be my last letter to you all as Arizona’s Prison Watcher, since my family has recently called me home, where last week it was literally colder than Mars. I moved back East around Thanksgiving and immediately got caught up in my loved ones’ medical crises. Then my house burned down in December, just before I moved in - thank goodness no one was hurt. I’m crashing on a friend’s sofa now, and all my stuff is buried in the garage under the things that were salvaged from the house after the fire. That means my office is still in boxes, and may well sit there until spring, as I have no place else to put it.

Furthermore, while I did put in a forwarding notice with the post office before moving, a lot of stuff didn’t get forwarded for over a month and I got hit all at once with a ton of mail last week. So, I’m not blowing anyone off - I just haven’t been able to get back to most of you who have written in the past few months. That’s what prompted this letter, as I can’t answer all your requests for help - really, I’m having a time of it right now myself. The best I can do is refer you to my friends and comrades back in Arizona, in hopes that they can help you somehow. None of the following people have asked me to promote them or anything, by the way - I compiled this list as a favor to you, not them.

To fight the AZ DOC by reading up on their policies, your civil rights as prisoners, how to sue them yourself and such, contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross. You can also report human rights violations to them. They’ll try to send you the info you need to fight back. This is a group of people I trust who have supported my work the most; they organized this ABC chapter specifically to carry it forward. Most are prison abolitionists/ anarchists like me, so you can bet your mail with them will be monitored, maybe even messed with by DOC. If you dont give a damn though, there are some pretty cool folks to correspond with and they’ll send you whatever info they can to help you fight the state...Just be careful about getting too radical in your own rhetoric with SSU reading - its so easy to get carried away when you find like-minded folks who want to hear your voice. You could become a politicized prisoner and end up buried in a lonely hole for the next decade, labeled an anarchist or some kind of extremist yourself. That could follow you, too, out the gate. Most of you would be best off if you simply state your issue and stick to the business at hand if you need some kind of resource from them. Their addy is Phoenix ABC PO Box 7241, Tempe, AZ 85281

Next up is my colleague Stacy Scheff. I’ve been following the work she’s done these past few years. She’s a civil rights attorney, not a free one, either - she has bills to pay. But she is very competent when it comes to prisoner rights litigation, can coach you through filing a suit yourself if need be, and will do a demand letter re: PC or medical care for a reasonable fee. DOC and the AG know her, and that she’s not to be taken lightly. She used to work with Vince Rabago, but has recently started her own practice in Tucson. If you need a legal consult on a matter of your rights as a prisoner, get a legal call to explain your issue and see what she might charge, or write to her. I get no kickbacks for referrals, by the way - I just know that if you have a case, she can kick the state’s a**, which makes me happy.  Law Office of Stacy Scheff  / P.O. Box 40611  / Tucson, AZ 85717-0611 /  (520) 471-8333  FAX: (520) 300-8033

Of course, there’s also the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona (ACLU-AZ). They sued the DOC in the class action over health care at the DOC, Parsons V Ryan. Ask them for a copy of the original complaint and the stipulations the DOC agreed to in the settlement - it might help you in your own fight for access to medical care. You should also report violations of human and constitutional rights to them. FILE GRIEVANCES over that stuff, first, though, and see them through - follow the policy or you have no chance in hell of holding DOC accountable in court down the road. Even if the ACLU doesn’t intervene in your individual case, its so important for prisoners to document with them what’s going on inside, that’s what get’s them paying attention to areas that may require litigation: a barrage of compelling testimony from prisoners and their family members, and evidence of unconstitutional policies and practices.  They are at: ACLU-AZ / PO Box 17148 / Phoenix, AZ 85011.

I’d also recommend reporting the abuse and neglect of prisoners with serious mental illness (SMI includes major thought and mood disorders, like schizophrenia or manic-depression) to the Arizona Center for Disability Law. The AZCDL has the “Protection & Advocacy” authority in Arizona, which is power to intervene with institutions where disabled individuals are being abused, neglected, or denied their civil rights. Historically they have not helped SMI prisoners on an individual basis (they litigated the DOC in Parsons v Ryan over the poor treatment of mentally ill prisoners and the abuse of solitary confinement), but they may make an exception if your case is representative of a bigger problem they’ve been hearing about. The only way to really drag them into this fight is for those they should be serving (or those looking out for them) to write to them. Even if they don’t help you, your letter may help them tune into what SMI prisoners are going through, and get them more involved on some other level. Their contact info is:

                                     Arizona Center for Disability Law
5025 E. Washington St., Ste 202            100 North Stone Ave., Ste 305
Phoenix, AZ 85034                                 Tucson, AZ 85701
(602) 274-6287 (voice/TTY)                   (520) 327-9547 (voice)
(800) 927-2260 (voice/TTY)                   (800) 922-1447 (voice)

If you’re fighting for your medical care, or dealing with extreme isolation, the folks to write to are at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Tucson. They’re on top of prison and health care privatization, new legislation affecting criminal justice issues, and in the fight against solitary confinement. They wrote “Death Yards” about Corizon’s shoddy care, and a booklet on solitary confinement in AZ. They may have other resources that can help, and it’s good for them to hear from prisoners about what’s going on. Their contact info is: AFSC-Tucson / 103 North Park Avenue,  #111 / Tucson, AZ  85719 /  (520) 623-9141

Another place for prisoners (not solely people of color) to report the DOC’s bad conduct  to is the NAACP of Maricopa County.  The attorney who volunteers for them is in only once a week, but is good about checking the mail and will occasionally pursue a complaint on a prisoner’s behalf if it appears civil rights are being violated, whether it’s due to racism, homophobia, or other such prejudices. She’s advocated for the safety of gay and transgender prisoners as well, regardless of race. She’s a member of the National Lawyer’s Guild, too - I often see her at protests doing legal observing (cop-watching). She also goes around the state doing presentations to community groups against private prisons and mass incarceration - thank her for all her community service if you write. Send your letters “LEGAL MAIL” to: Dianne Post, Legal Redress  /  NAACP of Maricopa County / P.O. Box 20883 / Phoenix, AZ 85036

Now, for those of you who like to express yourselves, don’t care what the DOC thinks about it, and want to be a part of a larger community of AZ prisoners sharing poetry, art, essays, horror stories, or experience, strength and hope in a new prisoner-written zine or newsletter, write to the Free Verse at PO BOX 7241 Tempe AZ 85281 with your ideas and ask them what they’re working on - someone will get back with you. Those are my friends, too.

Take care, all.

Until all cages are empty, and all are free -

                                       Peggy Plews
ART ATTACK at the Maricopa County Courthouse
Day of the Dead Prisoner: November 1, 2013

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chuck Ryan's legacy: Gangs and rapists rule the AZ DOC.

As many folks who follow this site are aware, a prison teacher was stabbed and raped at the AZ DOC a year ago; the court hasn't dismissed her case yet, thank god. Hopefully her suit will be a small vindication to those of you who haven't been able to hold the AZ DOC's feet to the fire on this issue - and a great use to those of you who are currently litigating on these issues, as well. This remark from the victim about who bears responsibility for the high level of violence in AZ prisons bears paying attention to, especially if you've lost someone to it:

"The attack raised questions about prison security after reports showed she was put into a room full of inmates with no guards nearby.

Authorities said Harvey had lingered behind after others left the room, then repeatedly stabbed the victim with a pen before raping her.

In a September interview with the AP, the woman said she primarily blamed Corrections Director Charles Ryan for putting her in danger. She said rampant understaffing meant no one checked on her while she was in the classroom."

Surviving the violence is a serious issue at the AZ DOC, as far as prisoners and the parents of prisoners, are concerned, too - like those of Neil Early, mudered at ASP-Kingman last month. Prisons are run by state and gang violence, and are thus inherently unsafe institutions to live or work in. But Arizona's are also grossly short-staffed (presumably so we can divert more money to the pocketbooks of out-of-state profiteers), so employees and prisoners alike are often left to fend for themselves. With plenty of blind spots to allow the prison heroin traffic to readily flourish (which sedates the masses, you see), the most vulnerable are easy prey.

That explains, in brief, why one union for AZ correctional officers, the Arizona Corrections  Association, has asked Judicial Watch to intervene due to the high incidence of assaults on officers under Ryan's tenure. In fact, Here's the AZCPOA 2011 letter of no confidence in Charles Ryan's leadershipNote how the AZCPOA letter in that second link makes references to documents being routinely falsified and officers being punished for reporting security concerns.

Here is a list of links to other AzPW posts about prison safety, specifically for those of you helping someone fight the AZ DOC for protection from gangs, bad debts, racists, homophobes, or certain death out on the GP yards.

Follow the links above, and hold Chuck Ryan accountable for your loved one's safety by addressing him here: Be sure you put your legislators in the cc line - they fund his department, even though the governor is his boss. Don't bother with Ryan's subordinates, unless they are actually helping you. Send all your communications about the danger your loved one faces to his in-box, and insist on confirmation that it's been received.

Meanwhile, if you cant print and send them the things they need yourself, tell prisoners to write to Phoenix ABC at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281. They should ask for info about the issue they're dealing with: folks at the ABC will send self-help articles about their rights, copies of relevant policy, etc. PHX ABC may also be reached via email at Or find them on Facebook here.

Finally, here is the list of attorneys I'd send you to if you needed help suing the AZ DOC. None of them asked to advertise with me, by the way - I put this together for you, not for them: 


-------------from the AP/East Valley Tribune-------------

Arizona wants lawsuit filed by raped prison teacher tossed

Posted: Monday, February 2, 2015 12:42 am

PHOENIX (AP) — Lawyers for the state of Arizona will urge a judge on Monday to dismiss a civil-rights violations lawsuit filed by a Department of Corrections teacher who was raped by a convicted sex offender in a prison classroom.

The lawsuit blames corrections employees for failing to establish proper security and the department's health care provider for improperly assessing prisoner Jacob Harvey's mental health. That allowed the then-20-year-old convicted rapist to be classified as a relatively low-risk offender and gain access to the classroom on Jan. 30, 2014.

A federal judge will hear arguments on the state's request to dismiss the case Monday. A deputy attorney general wrote that the teacher routinely worked in classrooms at the Eyman prison complex in Florence, and there is always a risk of assault when working with prisoners. He wrote the case should be dismissed because the teacher can't show the defendants had actual knowledge of or willfully ignored impending harm.
"By being placed in a classroom at the complex, the officers were not placing plaintiff in any type of situation that she would not normally face," deputy attorney general Jonathan Weisbard wrote.

The victim's lawyer says there is nothing normal about his client being placed unguarded in a classroom with convicted sex offenders.

"To the contrary, the complaint alleges in substantial detail (and plaintiff will prove) that there is nothing 'normal' or 'routine' about a teacher being left alone in a room for nearly ninety minutes with six or seven sex offenders and special needs inmates, including at least two who were convicted of violent sexual crimes," attorney Scott Zwillinger wrote.

The woman, who is not being identified by The Associated Press because she's a sexual assault victim, also is suing prison health care provider Corizon Health Inc. Lawyers for Corizon also are asking that the case be dismissed and deny wrongdoing.

A claim the woman made against the state before filing the lawsuit sought $4 million.

The attack raised questions about prison security after reports showed she was put into a room full of inmates with no guards nearby.

Authorities said Harvey had lingered behind after others left the room, then repeatedly stabbed the victim with a pen before raping her.

In a September interview with the AP, the woman said she primarily blamed Corrections Director Charles Ryan for putting her in danger. She said rampant understaffing meant no one checked on her while she was in the classroom.

"Safety's got to come before everything, and there's just this attitude that we have the number of staff we need because we say we do," she said.

A prison spokesman called the rape "a cowardly and despicable crime, for which the inmate is rightfully facing prosecution" and said safety is always paramount.

Harvey is awaiting trial on rape, assault, kidnapping and other charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Ghosts of Doug Ducey: JANUARY 2015 State Prison Deaths

The first month of the new year was not kind to Arizona's prisoners, at least three of whom died in the first week by their own hand, and one of whom was brutally murdered. What follows are death notices for January 2015. The AZ DOC seldom updates the public with information about a cause of death unless there's a compelling demand from media for it - and all they are inclined to tell us about at times like these are their dead prisoners crimes and punishments. If you have any information on any of these individuals' lives or their deaths, or are a loved one who needs assistance, please feel free to contact me. Peggy Plews


January 1  ASPC-Lewis       SUICIDE      Donald Condra, 51, ADC #233190

January 5  ASPC-EYMAN  SUICIDE      Bernard Stewart, 47, ADC #277366

January 5  ASPC-EYMAN  SUICIDE      Justin Reif, 24 ADC#244623

January 6  ASPC-Florence   UNK           James Haley, 50 ADC#075188

January 7 ASPC-Perryville  UNK           Carolyn Thompson, 67 ADC#038274

January 14  CACF (GEO)     UNK          Craig Aubert, 46 ADC#278241

January 19  ASP-Kingman  Homicide    Neil Early, 23, ADC #250396 

23 year old Neil Early
Murdered at ASP-Kingman, 
on a minimum security yard.

This was the AZ DOC's Director's statement about suicides on his watch after two guys killed themselves the same day, in the same prison. What I've seen is that Ryan's AZ DOC's methods of "suicide prevention" and "suicide watch" are so brutal and humiliating, with mentally ill prisoners in particular sustaining such emotional and physical abuse, that its no wonder more aren't sent home dead. This really sounds like Ryan is trying hard to look on the bright side of being mediocre ("average") about suicide prevention and response. I wouldnt find it acceptable, myself, if my own kid was inside - by not offering drug abuse treatment and mental health care where needed, Corizon is cutting corners where Ryan lets them, making a profit at the most severely impaired prisoners' expense...


“The Department of Corrections is dedicated to the safety and security of the general public, ADC personnel and the inmates in our custody.  Any inmate self-harm attempt is taken seriously and is thoroughly investigated.

This department has a goal of zero inmate suicides, and while one suicide is one too many, data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that ADC’s rate of inmate suicides was approximately 17 per 100,000 from 2001-2012 (the most recent annual data available).  This is nearly identical to the overall rate for the entire state population. 

This data also shows that in terms of prison systems, 21 states had a higher rate than Arizona, 27 had a rate below, and one has the same rate as ADC. This places Arizona’s rate in alignment with national average. 

In 2009, ADC instituted enhanced measures to address this issue. Those strategies include an integrated approach to mental health and suicide prevention that combines environmental, programmatic, operational, training and staff considerations. This begins for every inmate upon arrival at ADC where they are assessed for any mental health, medical and dental issues.

Specifically, ADC has instituted additional inmate programming to address mental health and self-esteem concerns, enhanced officer patrol procedures to ensure ongoing observation of inmates in max custody units, made facility modifications such as enlarging cell windows to increase visibility and communication between inmates and staff, modified recreational enclosures to increase group contact and promote socialization, replaced individual classroom enclosures with secure desk chairs for programming classes, and installed televisions for self-paced inmate programming.”

# # # #
Inmate Deaths by Year and Cause
*FY 2015 as of 01/05/2015
**Actual inmate population as of 01/05/2015
Includes ADC and Contract Beds
ADP – Average Daily Population (for Fiscal Year)
Cause of death figures are subject to change based on official medical examiner reports, which may be issued in a subsequent month.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ASP-Kingman's Homicide in Custody: Neil Early, 23.

UPDATE (1/25/15 3:20pm) 

I've heard from Neil's family since the post below, and they confirm he was murdered at ASP-Kingman/Cerbat. The AZ DOC should have cracked down on ASP-Kingman over the proliferation of drugs and violence there after the escape of John McClusky and friends, but by the sounds of things, it all only got worse once the spotlight was off this private prison.

Neil's mom has posted this message on her facebook, and has asked folks to share it far and wide.


(Neil Early 7/11/1991-1/19/2015)

We are the parents of Neil Early who was murdered in the Kingman Prison on Monday 1/19/15. Neil was only 23 years old. There are many untruths going on and we want to clarify a few details.

Neil wasn’t a bad man, misguided, but he wanted to do the right thing. He was in prison, doing 5 years and had 15 months left on his term. He was convicted of Drug Paraphernalia and Conspiracy to Commit Retail Theft. This meant that he stole some video games from two different stores and resold them for money. Stupid yes, but he shouldn’t have to die for a mistake he was already paying for. 

He now will never be a son again, a big brother, a cousin, or a father to his child. The family needs to know what happened to him! This should not be covered up! We are understandably very angry and need answers. He shouldn’t have had a death sentence for his mistakes!

The family is requesting anyone with ANY information please contact us:



The Early Family
PO Box 1138
Black Canyon City, AZ 85324

Original Post (1/21/15)  

Arizona state prison officials have kept the recent death of 23 year old ASP-Kingman prisoner Neil Early on the down low since it happened. My condolences to the family; I hope you sue - that's the only way you'll ever get to the truth. You sure can't trust the AZ DOC to get at it for you. Contact me if you don't know where to start: Peggy Plews at or 480-580-6807. 

I'd also like to hear from anyone else who can fill in the blanks - all I don't know about this kid's life, his dreams, and such that I can't find out from the AZ DOC website; I know there was more to him than what meets the eye. Send me a better picture, too, if you can.

Folks at Prison Talk suggest that Neil's death was a homicide, but none of the media outlets have reported it as such, and the DOC has nothing on their site (though his AZDOC profile has been updated to show he passed away.) Sadly, it appears he was having trouble with substance use in custody, up until shortly before his death. His judge did recommend he go to Marana facility for substance abuse treatment when he was sentenced. It's a shame they think (or pretend as if) people actually get any care in prison. They should have taken one look at him and known he would be prey in there, instead. It's time we stop sending non-violent offenders like him to prison on minimum mandatory sentences. That could be done this year, if the legislature had the will. 

Here's what AZCENTRAL.COM has to say this am:


An inmate's death Monday at a private prison near Kingman has prompted an investigation from the Arizona Department of Corrections, according to a statement from the agency.

Neil Early, 23, was serving a sentence for two counts of organized retail theft and drug paraphernalia charges from 2011 in Maricopa County.

Early was sentenced to a 5-year prison term in May 2012 after having previously served less than a year in 2010 for for theft charges.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Corizon HealthScare: Meet me in St. Louis...

The article below was posted from the AP to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today. This was the comment I left for their readers: 

Corizon has been nothing but disastrous to Arizona state prisoners, ignoring too many to death and leaving their families devastated. We've had a whistleblower speak out and a class action lawsuit here (Parsons v Ryan), exposing how evil they are - as well as numerous protests by prisoners' loved ones and interviews with survivors, but it has been to no avail. 

Some think that's due to Good Old Boy Terry Stewart's influence in AZ (he's the former AZ DOC director - Chuck Ryan's mentor - now in bed with the folks at Corizon Healthscare), but I can't explain why other states still have contracts with them. Voters should really scrutinize things closely if their jails or prison systems are going with these folks and renewing contracts year after year, there's probably something dirty going on that keeps them sucking your tax dollars up for their profits at the expense of some of your most vulnerable citizens. Stop the privatization all together, if you can. It doesn't deliver what it promises, and you'll end up paying more after too many die in the end.

Posted as Peggy Plews

God only knows why the new governor, Doug Ducey, has retained Chuck Ryan after the embarassment his administration was to Brewer - must have something on that guy, too. It's like the whole Republican party here just dug their heads in the sand when it comes to the AZ DOC, though, not just the chiefs. Their mascot should be an ostrich, not an elephant. Elephants are, after all, thoughtful, compassionate, and wise...

By the way, if you're fighting these bastards on behalf of a loved one at the AZ DOC, follow the links to these older pieces, but be sure to be current on the relevant AZDOC policies (Department Orders) and send them the right copies - the docs and links in these old posts have probably expired.

 Corizon's Cruel and Unusual Greed: Follow the Money with Prison Legal News

Corizon and the AZ DOC: Prisoners & Families, Know Your Rights.


Corizon's deliberate indifference: fighting back.


artwork is mine....

------------from the St Louis POST-DISPATCH--------
St Louis Post-Dispatch
Janaury 20, 2014 

Months after he landed in Florida’s Manatee County Jail, Jovon Frazier’s pleas for treatment of intense pain in his left shoulder were met mostly with Tylenol.

“I need to see a doctor!” he wrote on his eighth request form. “I done put a lot of sick calls in & ya’ll keep sending me back and ain’t tell me nothing.”

Four months later, after Frazier’s 13th request resulted in hospitalization and doctors diagnosed bone cancer, his arm was amputated, according to a lawsuit by his family.

But the cancer spread. Frazier died in 2011 at age 21, months after his release.

As an inmate, his medical care had been managed not by the county sheriff’s office that runs the jail, but by a private company under contract.

That company, Corizon Health Inc., is under growing pressure after the loss of five state prison contracts, downgrades by analysts and increasing scrutiny of its care of inmates held by some of its largest customers, including New York City.

Corizon, responsible for 345,000 inmates in 27 states, including Missouri, is the country’s biggest for-profit correctional health provider, but it’s just one of many firms vying for billions of public dollars spent on prisoner care.

Corizon was established in 2011 when privately held Valitás Health Services Inc., the Creve Coeur-based parent of Correctional Medical Services Inc., acquired America Service Group Inc., a Tennessee-based provider of prison health services.

With corporate headquarters in Brentwood, Tenn., Corizon touts Creve Coeur as home to its operational headquarters.

For-profit prison care raises questions about ceding public responsibilities to private companies. It turns, though, on a thornier issue: How do you ensure care of people who society mostly would prefer not to think about?

Inmates “are still human beings. I think some people forget that, I really do. They’re somebody’s child,” said Shirley Jenkins, Frazier’s grandmother.


States spend $8 billion a year, a fifth of their corrections budgets, on prison health care, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts and the MacArthur Foundation. Local jails spend millions more.

Some critics fault the idea of privatizing the job.

“The problem is a structure that creates incentives to cut corners and deny care to powerless people that have no other options,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

Others say deficiencies with prison care go beyond whether it is privatized.

“I don’t have a great love for private health care ... but I don’t think that they’re the source of the problem,” said Dr. Marc Stern, former health services director for Washington state’s prisons. Stern, who once worked for a Corizon predecessor in New York state, issued a 2012 report criticizing the company’s care of Idaho prison inmates while serving as a court-appointed expert.

“I think the problem is how much money and effort we are willing to put into correctional health care,” Stern said.

Some critics, though, say Corizon is notably problematic.

“We get letters from prisoners about medical care not being provided, and the list is endless. And it’s increased tremendously since Corizon took over,” said Randall Berg, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, who represents inmates petitioning for care.

Corizon says it strives to provide quality care.

“We are always troubled by any questions on the care provided to our patients and view this as an opportunity to reconfirm our commitment to operational ethics and professionalism,” company spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern said in a written statement. The company declined to answer questions.

The criticism surrounding Corizon isn’t new. Correctional Medical Services, or CMS, which later became Corizon, was the main subject of a 1998 Post-Dispatch investigation of for-profit prison health care providers. Looking at CMS and other firms, the investigation found more than 20 cases nationwide in which inmates died as a result of alleged negligence, indifference, understaffing, inadequate training or cost-cutting.

In 2012, Corizon was sued for alleged medical missteps in the death of Courtland Lucas, an inmate in the St. Louis jail. He died May 25, 2009, from complications of a heart problem, congenital aortic valve stenosis, while under the care of CMS. The lawsuit was settled in the fall of 2014, but the terms were not disclosed.

Corizon’s struggles are widespread.

Its care of the 11,000 inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island is under “comprehensive review” by officials, who say they are concerned about problems including at least 16 deaths since 2009.

Arizona hired Corizon last year to replace Wexford Health Sources Inc. after its care came under fire. But an advocacy group warned that “if anything, things have gotten worse” in state prisons. Arizona and the ACLU recently reached a settlement calling for more monitoring of inmate care.

Meanwhile Corizon has lost long-standing prison contracts in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland, Tennessee and Pennsylvania since 2012. Auditors in three states documented problems, including slowness to address poor recordkeeping and inmates’ urgent requests for off-site care.

Corizon, which generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2013 and is owned by a Chicago private equity firm, has battled stiffening competition. In recent months, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded Corizon’s holding company, citing financial underperformance, contract losses and competition that has squeezed profits.

The connection between Corizon’s contract losses and questions about the quality of care it provides is not clear.

But the challenges are evident in Florida, where a year after the state privatized prison care and awarded Corizon a $1.2 billion contract, news reports point to rising inmate deaths. If the company does not address substandard care, the state’s corrections commissioner wrote to Corizon’s CEO in September, Florida may begin withholding payment.

In Minnesota, an audit last year found that inadequate communication between prison staff and Corizon doctors during overnight hours “may have been a contributing factor to inmate deaths.”

But in announcing Minnesota’s change of contractors, the corrections commissioner said Corizon had provided “excellent” service. In a written response to questions, the state corrections department said its decision was not related to the audit. It would not comment on inmate deaths.

Corizon’s work in local jails also has come under scrutiny.

In October, Volusia County, Fla., officials questioned Corizon executives about lawsuits and its financial stability before voting unanimously to switch contractors. The hearing was held in the shadow of a lawsuit filed locally by the family of Tracy Veira, an inmate who choked to death in 2009 in a cell where she was supposed to be under watch while detoxing from painkillers.

A nurse working for one of the companies that merged to form Corizon saw an ailing Veira in the jail’s clinic the afternoon before she died. She told a supervisor the inmate looked as if she needed hospitalization, but Veira was instead sent back to her cell, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

When the commissioners questioned Corizon’s executives, there was no mention of Veira. But Commissioner Deb Denys said she was mindful of the case, scheduled for a July trial.

“I think everybody was,” Denys said. “Sometimes you don’t state the obvious.”

Jennifer Mann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.