AFSC-TUCSON: AZ DOC's DEATH YARDS

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Freeing Avi Naftel...

Avi was a friend of mine before I knew he had also been a prisoner. He was committed as Arnold Naftel, #45287, to the AZ DOC  at the age of 28 for disarming and kidnapping a state trooper…which isn’t quite what it sounds like. He was trained as an Israeli soldier as well as a Navy Seal – of course he disarmed her when she drew on him and demanded his papers.
 
Avi survived over 26 years of violence, abuse, and gross medical neglect in Arizona's state prisons. He spent much of his time in the hole, but he was also a hell of a jailhouse lawyer. And he left a corrupt, brutal guard with a limp for years (warning - this is the man I learned self-defense from).  There were questions about how Avi died - the cops now say there was no foul play, at least. I think Avi made amends with the people he loved as best he could, and went out the way he wanted to - living freely. I hope I am so lucky when it‘s my time...


----------my original post to Prison Abolitionist   from 7/15/12-------

A couple of friends and I journeyed to the Kibbutz Elfrida today in search of our beloved Avi Naftel , who had fallen out of touch with everyone for several weeks. We discovered when we arrived that his body had been found near his camp by the Cochise County Sheriff's office at the end of June after a neighbor reported him missing.

The sergeant we spoke to in Elfrida at the Sheriff's department substation suggested that his death was being looked at as a possible homicide for several reasons he shouldn't have disclosed to us. In any case, despite that and the news reports  of his "suspicious" death  at the time, I think the man died on his own terms out there. Here's an excerpt from Avi to another friend (from the Kibbutz Elfrida Facebook page) that kind of sums up why I think this...

“I'm very sick and painful and won't be able to get there for BCR4 as I'm broke. However I bought that land in S AZ so that I can die in peace there. The doctors told me not to lose hope but get my affairs in order. At this time I'm not sad at all, I'm very finding serenity and not afraid at all. In fact I may welcome death as I'm tired of being sick and though I have loving friends and would love to continue traveling around, its getting too difficult for me. My guitar is my gift for you since its such a sweet sound, it is a blessing for me to do this."

Visit Avi's Spacebook  page for updates and to leave good thoughts for his family. I'll post more here later, once I'm really ready to let this good soul go.

Blessings to you as you continue your journey, Avi: so glad you lived and died a free man. 

Thanks for letting me spend a bit of time with you along the way - it was a  great ride.




Avi and Cookie, Phoenix   



 Cookie biker, in doggles


Cookie was specially trained and provided by the VA Hospital to alert Avi when his blood sugar levels endangered him...
She is such a lovely soul, as well, and has been adopted out to a good family.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Seawright Prison Justice Project: ideas from Audre Lorde

Prison abolition in practice, from the good people at the Audre Lorde Project...this is the kind of thing I'd much rather spend time on, not fighting with the FBI. I am reminded that when we look to the state to define and achieve "justice" for us, we validate and reinforce that very system we wish to destroy. This group below offers one alternative to looking to the police to make us safer in our communities....


------------from the Audre Lorde Project-----------


Safe OUTside the System: The SOS Collective


The Safe OUTside the System (SOS) Collective is an anti-violence program led by and for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans, and Gender Non Conforming people of color. We are devoted to challenging hate and police violence by using community based strategies rather than relying on the police.

Join Us

  • Membership within the SOS Collective is open to all LGBTSTGNC people of color who live in Bed-Stuy or surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
  • We have open meetings every 2nd Tuesday of the month.
  • Although our meetings are not open to allies, we welcome the support of our non-LGBTSTGNC and white allies. Please contact us at 718.596.0342 ext. 22 to learn how you can support our work.

Current Work

  • Safe Neighborhood Campaign: The S.O.S. Collective organizes and educates local businesses and community organizations on how to stop violence without relying on law enforcement. Want to become a Safe Space? Interested in recruiting more Safe Spaces? Join us in stopping violence one Safe Space at a time!
  • Save Starlite: Join us in fighting the eviction of one of our Safe Spaces the Starlite Lounge. The Starlite Lounge is the oldest, black owned, non-discriminating, gay-friendly bar in Brooklyn.
  • Community Support: The S.O.S. Collective works to support LGBTSTGNC people of color survivors of police and hate violence in Central Brooklyn. From fundraising, to referrals, to outside of the system organizing strategies feel free to call on us for assistance.
  • Reclaiming Safety: The Audre Lorde Project, CUAV, and several organizations around the country opposed the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Act. We believe that sending more resources to law enforcement make us less safe instead of more. The S.O.S. Collective and Communities United Against Violence (CUAV) in San Francisco have been strategizing, organizing, and educating our communities to shift the national discussion on ending hate violence towards community led strategies.

History

  • The Working Group on Police and State Violence (now SOS Collective) began in 1997 in response to a rash of street violence, repressive state violence tactics, an increase of police harassment, and brutality, and the “Quality of Life” policies of the Giuliani administration.
  • In working to build a citywide movement, the WGPV participated in founding the Coalition Against Police Brutality (CAPB). With the other POC based organizations part of CAPB, the working group helped organized People’s Justice 2000, 41 days of action in the wake of Diallo and Louima, and annual Racial Justice Day (RJD) events, where the families of those who have been brutalized and killed at the hands of the NYPD raise their voices and demand justice.
  • In our work, we have also taken on cases of community members, such as Jalea Lamot, a trans woman who, along with her family, was brutalized and arrested in her home by the NYCHA police.
  • In addressing the broader issues of State Violence, we have collaborated with other POC organizations both citywide and nationally (TWW-Peace Action Coalition and Racial Justice 911, respectively) in response to post September 11th government policies and practices.
  • We also held two War Against Terror Meetings, which worked to build and make visible an analysis of how homophobia and trans-phobia are cornerstones of the right wing agenda. And that this agenda is responsible for the repressive practices the “war on terror” and how LGBTSTGNC people are impacted on a daily basis.
  • The WGPV also helped coordinate Operation Homeland Resistance, a civil disobedience after the invasion of Iraq, which connected oppressive tactics at home to imperialist war of aggression abroad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2008 Deaths in Custody: The Drowning of Jesse Garcia

 Amnesty International
(circa 1980's)

I received the following letter from a former AZ DOC officer this spring, who I also spoke to at some length. I have since verified that Jesse Garcia (43305), a prisoner from ASPC-Tucson/Manzanita, died on 12/31/08 at Kino Hospital . The cause of death was ultimately documented by the AZ DOC as being due to complications of emphysema, with a contributing factor of lung cancer.

I don't know why there is no record of Jesse Garcia's existence in the AZ DOC on-line database, but I obtained the record at the bottom of this post directly from the AZ DOC myself. In any case, this is the story of just how Jesse died. If anyone out there knows how to contact his family, please get this post to them and have them contact me (Peggy Plews) at arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com or 480-580-6807.



----------from former AZ DOC officer N. Duran--------

May 2, 2012

Peggy Plews:

Here’s my story, I pray that God will intervene where the justice system failed or just didn’t care about another dead inmate.


On 12-31-08 at 9:45 pm, Sgt R. Lopez briefed graveyard staff at ASPC-T-Manzanita Unit that an Inmate was in need of a breathing treatment.  He said that the inmate was a problem and just wanted attention.

When I arrived in Housing Unit 6 (Terminally Ill) Facility, I noticed inmate Jesse Garcia 43305 was sitting in a wheelchair in an awkward twisted position, struggling to breathe.  It appeared he had a blueish discoloration to his skin & tongue.  He was propped next to the officer’s desk, gasping for air and grabbing his chest.

I heard the Swingshift Officer trying to get inmate Garcia medical attention.  To no avail, Swingshift Officer informed me that Sgt. Lopez refused to transport Inmate Garcia to Rincon 9 for Medical attention.  He told me that Sgt. R. Lopez said that he has enough medication and that he was probably faking, besides it’s New Years Eve and he didn’t want to deal with the paperwork.

The Swingshift Officer also informed me that Inmate Garcia had four breathing treatments throughout the day and recently he ran out of albuterol.  With medical a no show, (we) myself & SPA-Porter assisted Inmate Garcia to his bed with aid of an oxygen machine.  Throughout the night Inmate Garcia was having difficulty breathing.

At approximately 1:30am I witnessed Inmate Garcia wheel himself down the hallway to the medical doors.  He appeared panicking and was in distress.  His wheelchair was pinned up against the medical doors.  He was twisting back & forth with his eyes bulging and his tongue protruding out of his mouth.  He was desperately clawing at the doors trying to pry them open.  He appeared he was unable to breathe.  He was desperately clawing at the doors, his finger tips appeared to have blood coming from them due to his desperate attempt to claw the doors open.

ICS was initiated and Inmate Garcia was violently twisting gasping for air while his head was banging against the medical door attempting to breathe.  Inmate Garcia then turned towards me violently grabbing at my uniform shirt with fear and desperation.  I asked Inmate Garcia what he needed.  He tried to say medicine in Spanish.

Myself & SPA Porter attempted to remove Inmate Garcia from his wheelchair and place him on the floor.  We placed a laundry bag under his head so he would not suffer any head trauma.  The video operator was on site and Sgt. Lopez arrived later.  He was contacting Rincon Medical to advise them of a transport.  I told Sgt. Lopez that the inmate needed to go to St. Mary’s Hospital.  With lack of empathy he sarcastically refused and said he was going to Rincon 9.

At that instant Inmate Garcia managed to sit up and violently vomit blood & tissue.  Sgt. Lopez then requested an ambulance to transport Inmate Garcia to the hospital.  What seemed like a lifetime of vomiting blood, it appeared Inmate Garcia stopped breathing.  I guided his head to the floor where Inmate Garcia laid unresponsive his eyes appeared glazed with blood coming out of his nose and mouth he appeared not breathing.

Myself, the video operator & Sgt. Lopez appeared to be the only security in the unit with also 15 inmates.  I turned to Sgt. Lopez and I asked him to help me with CPR.  He yelled at me and stated, “I’m on the phone.”  I told him the inmate stopped breathing and I needed help with CPR.  Again he yelled “I’m on the F______ phone.”  I then turned to the video operator and asked her for assistance with CPR, noticing she was still video taping.  She refused.

I asked her for a mouth piece, at that moment another officer arrived on unit to assist me with CPR.  The officer was administering chest compressions I was trying to attempt rescue breathing. Due to the large amount of blood on the mouth shield I was provided with extra one and I continued to conduct rescue breathing until the Tucson Fire department arrived and relieved us with the CPR attempt and they continued until they were able to get a pulse.

A request was made by me for a blood sample & test of any HIV-AIDS-Hep viruses.  Due to the bodily fluid exposure I was provided medication to fight any viruses that entered the system.  The medication made me violently ill and I was out of work for over a week.  When I returned to work I was informed that Sgt. Lopez never requested a blood test.  I spoke with the Nurse Supervisor at Kino.  He stated there was never a request from any supervisor to get a blood test from deceased Inmate Garcia.

I was told by the COII (sp?) from our unit that Inmate Garcia was cremated because he had no family.  I was later informed by a Wardens assistant that Inmate Garcia did have family because they authorized the cremation.  I asked her what he died of, she informed me the death certificate stated cancer.

I would like the expose the truth.


Jesse Garcia 43305 suffocated and drowned in his own blood.  The incident was videotaped and his death was negligent and covered up.  His family needs to know the truth.  I’ve exhausted every option to reveal the truth.


Like all officers we swore an oath to protect the public, staff and inmates.  The cause of death was falsified.  In the yard office hung a ridiculous sign, “Inmates are students of our behavior!”  If that’s the case the inmate population has not chance of rehabilitation.

Former officer of 15 ½ years -

N. Duran
 

---------------------
 
arizona department of corrections

Friday, July 13, 2012

Deaths in Custody: Hate, Justice and the FBI.

UPDATE: FBI CALL-IN --ON HOLD---

MONDAY JULY 16, 2012  5:45am

Hey All - We got their attention last week just by organizing. Let's give them this week to dig into the evidence we provided them with on Dana's case before slamming them with phone calls; it may not be necessary., and my intention wasn't just to call for the sake of harassment.

I'll post a new page (either a group or an event) if we need to still emphasize that a LOT of people are concerned about this case. I think they get that part already. I believe that once someone competent takes a close look at the case, they'll open it without complaining.

We still need you all to stand as witnesses to what happens from here. And we still need to plan an action for Prisoner Justice Day on August 10.

Please continue to share this link and Dana's story widely.
..

..

US Attorney's Office - District of Arizona
Phoenix (July 13, 2012)

FRIDAY July 13, 2:48PM

Just heard from the media relations person at the FBI, Jennifer Giannola (jennifer.giannola@ic.fbi.gov or 520-594-2020 for you journalists out there wanting the official comment). She said that the FBI is aware of Dana's murder, but they aren't able to confirm or deny that there's an investigation going on. That's it.

She suggested that Kini call the desk officer (who was clueless today) next week and ask to speak to the agent who ignored her after she went in person to beg them to help find Dana's killers and hold their accomplices responsible. Yeah - they wanted her to call the desk herself and just hope not to be disregarded again.

I suggested they have someone take a serious look at his file, open the case, and call her themselves next week - or have the decency to come out her in person and tell her why they don't think her son's homicide was a hate crime. How much more hateful could it have been?

Now, everyone here needs to know the FBI, the DOJ, the Phoenix Police, the AZ Attorney General's office, and several media outlets have a copy of the complete criminal investigations unit report on the homicide investigation (one section is over 575 pages and has photos of the evidence, including the weapon and eyewitness testimony). I think the only ones who haven't even looked at the ton of evidence we handed them, though, are the fellows in law enforcement. They have no clue what just hit them, it appears.

Perhaps this is just a matter of laziness and incompetence - I have no idea how far his file went before they said no the first time around. Did it silently disappear under a stack on some cop's or prosecutor's desk, or did the men in charge actually comprehend that Dana was killed for loving a Mexican and betraying his race as much as he was for the fact that his lover was a man and think "nope - that's not a hate crime."?

If Special Agent in Charge Turgal is the one who made that call and stands by it now, then he's at the top of Dana's mom's list of people to discuss this with, not the guy at the front desk, and he should be the one to explain himself.

So, that's where it all stands, for now. They won't confirm or deny anything. I think they hope this all just blows over before Monday. After all, he was just another black man in prison bludgeoned to death for loving a Mexican one...who in this state is going to care about that? And who in this world will back us?
here's the facebook site:
Tell the FBI: The Murder of Dana Seawright 
was a Hate Crime (623-466-1999)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tell the FBI: The Murder of Dana Seawright was a Hate Crime (ON HOLD)

UPDATE: FBI CALL-IN --ON HOLD---

Deaths in Custody: Hate, Justice and the FBI.





PHOENIX FBI: 623-466-1999

WARNING: 

Many of my anarchist friends must think I'm nuts for inviting 600 people to call the FBI out on Dana Seawright's killers. Their co-conspirators, though, I believe, include employees of the state - the guards who let a gang beat a man to death and clean up their mess before stepping in to see what was amiss. And the DOC investigators who ignored both testimony and evidence that identified who ordered the hit.

So if you really want to mess with the police, my friends, please do so here and now - you don't have to check yes on the invite (allowing the FBI to gather their newest shit list), but you can still call and demand they treat this as a hate crime and put those witnesses into protective custody immediately. We need your help today and every day for the next month if that's what it takes to say that queer prisoners don't deserve to be treated this way....come find me if you have problems with that.

And remember that they will trace whatever phone you use. Your masks will not protect you...
---from FACEBOOK----





On July 3, 2010, Dana Seawright was beaten into a coma by the West Side City Crips at Lewis state prison in Buckeye, AZ. He died four days later, at the age of 26.


Dana was bi-sexual and anti-racist, and had a Mexican boyfriend in prison, for which he was murdered. The Arizona Department of Corrections collected evidence of this hate crime, obtained eyewitness statements, and identified likely suspects with defensive wounds on them.

Once they determined why Dana was killed and by whom, the DOC investigator then told Dana's mother: "if it's any consolation, they didn't mean to kill him - they just meant to teach him a lesson." They proceeded to close the case, unsolved, never filing charges - not even taking disciplinary action - against anyone.

Since there's question of DOC officer complicity in the beat down (his dorm was left unsupervised and unchecked for an hour while they assaulted him and cleaned up evidence), one must wonder if there isn't a concern about government agent corruption regarding this case as well.

Dana's mother, Kini Seawright, appealed last fall to the Phoenix FBI's lead agent, James Turgal, to open her son's homicide case as a hate crime or gang crime investigation. The FBI has thus far refused to do so. Now, six weeks after she went in person to press his office on the matter, the FBI agent she spoke to didn't even bother to get back to her to tell her they had no intention of following up. He told her that only when she called again to inquire about the status of the case.

When state and local law enforcement fail to investigate hate crimes - and when there's question of their complicity in the violence or in a cover-up, it's the duty of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to pursue it. Please call the Phoenix FBI and tell them that Dana's murder was a hate crime, and the people of this state expect them to investigate it fully.

Dana lost his life for his defiance of racism and hate - despite his criminal convictions, he was a good man who didn't deserve to die that way. Help his mother convince the FBI that Dana's was no less valuable because he was a poor, black, bi-sexual prisoner than if he'd been a wealthy white businessman with ties to the Governor. Call the Phoenix FBI office at 623-466-1999, then note here that you did so to help us track community response.

See our letter to the FBI earlier this year at http://azprisonsurvivors.blogspot.com/2012/03/hate-crimes-in-az-prisons-where-is-fbi.html. We have yet to receive an answer.

August 10 is recognized internationally as Prisoner's Justice Day. Please help us pressure the FBI to open Dana's case as a hate crime investigation before then.

For more information about this and other violence against Arizona state prisoners, go to http://azprisonsurvivors.blogspot.com/

 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Who Killed Dana Seawright? Ask the Phoenix FBI...


Federal Courthouse, Phoenix
April 20, 2012

Tomorrow will be the two year anniversary of the murder of Dana Seawright. The Phoenix FBI, to date, has refused to investigate his homicide as a hate crime, a gang crime, or a matter of public corruption; they didn't even have the decency to call his mother and follow-up after she went in person to beg them to open his case, nor will they provide her with a rationale for not doing so. So I am left to wonder: do they hate prisoners, blacks, Mexicans, or queers? Why does solving his murder not matter to them? All I can say at this point is that they haven't heard the last from us...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

ASPC-Florence Deaths in Custody: Nelson Douglas Johnson III, 31





Nelson Douglas Johnson III:
2002 Award winner in Lowrider Mag



---------------July 3, 2010 (8:20am)---------------


I spent some time this morning trying to learn a little more about this fellows life than the AZ Department of Corrections wants to share with us. All I could draw from were his criminal records though, and some of what comes from them is just my inference...

Nelson Douglas Johnson had a history of having problems with the law dating back to adolescence. At the age of 17 he was charged as an adult for a hit-and-run accident that apparently resulted in someone's death...that's a hell of a thing to live with. Nelson pled guilty to an aggravated assault charge out of that case (eventually agreeing to a $2million restitution order), then picked up a separate weapons misconduct charge around the same time and went to prison young. 

I can't access the sentencing minutes, but by all appearances Nelson did at least eight or nine years in state prison - growing up there, basically - before being released in 2008. He was back in prison in 2010, pleading guilty to resisting arrest in exchange for having a number of burglary charges dropped. That was what he was doing time for when he killed himself this week, just two months short of freedom.

Nelson should have been paroled on September 7 of this year, which is troubling. Whenever I see guys do this I can't help but wonder if there was some more fearsome death they were trying to avoid by taking their own lives. As noted below, Nelson was at ASPC-Florence/Kasson - and according to his AZ DOC record, he had a number of disciplinary actions this past year for what appear to be "refusals to house" - which is usually what someone does when they're afraid they'll be hurt or killed on a GP yard, so they get a ticket and get sent to detention, Like Nelson did.

The only letters I get from Nelson's yard, by the way, are from guys who are begging for help getting protective custody. I hope his family hires an attorney to find out if he had been threatened and was seeking protection at the time he died - too many guys have done themselves in upon being told they were denied protection and would be returned to general population; the terror of what might happen to them there was too much to face. If there wasn't such a huge jump in the violence in our state prisons under Chuck Ryan, the protective segregation program wouldn't be so swamped with applicants right now.

Families, please tell your loved ones to hang on. If they're having trouble getting PS or if you fear they aren't getting the mental health treatment they need, have them write to me (PO Box 20494, PHX 85036). I can't promise to deliver anything, but I'll do what I can to help and encourage them through whatever they're facing in there. Let them know about the class action suit over the neglect and suicides, and that we're working on getting the feds in to assess the skyrocketing assault and homicide rates under Chuck Ryan - tell them that help is on the way, they just need to hold out and hang in there.

Finally, condolences to Nelson's family, who must be devastated. If I can be a support through this or you want to organize with other survivors to prevent this bloodshed from continuing, let me know. 

If anyone knows more about Nelson Johnson's life or death, I'd appreciate it if you'd contact me (arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com or 480-580-6807), so I can tell his story more completely. 




Art by Nelson Douglas Johnson III
featured in Lowrider Magazine (2001)

-------------from the Arizona Republic-------------

Florence prison inmate kills himself in his cell

Bob Ortega - Arizona Republic

July 2, 2012

An inmate serving 21 months for resisting arrest was found dead from an apparent suicide in his cell Sunday at Arizona's Florence state prison, Arizona Department of Corrections officials said.

At the time of his death, Nelson Johnson, 31, was being held in maximum security in the prison's Kasson unit, which includes mental-health and disciplinary detention cells. Officials couldn't immediately confirm that Johnson was being held in isolation, but all the cells in Kasson are isolation cells.


Johnson is the fifth acknowledged suicide in the state prison system since Jan. 1. All but one of the suicides have been by inmates being held in isolation in maximum security at Florence or Eyman state prisons. There have been four other deaths since the beginning of March in which the department has not released a cause of death and that officials said remain under investigation.

Johnson had been imprisoned since May 11, 2011.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Wexford arrives in AZ: Welcome to Gamez v. Ryan.

For some reason I didn't post this piece in April when it first came out in the Arizona Republic, so am doing so now, as July 1 was Wexford's first day on the job in Arizona's state prisons. Be sure to let them know, folks, that we'll be watching them...

This lawsuit is now known as PARSONS v RYAN

-----------END--------


Wexford's Phoenix HQ. 

Approximately 40% of AZ state prisoners are infected with Hepatitis C, 
an epidemic spilling over into or communities unchecked as well, 
since most of those infected are being denied treatment...

-----------------------------

Critics cast doubt on new Ariz. prison health-care contractor

Arizona Republic

Bob Ortega
April 6, 2012



The private contractor taking over health care in Arizona's prisons promises significant improvements in care while saving money, in effect saying it will do more with less. But critics charge that Wexford Health Sources' record elsewhere suggests that sometimes it fails to live up to its promises and may do less with less.

Arizona's Department of Corrections, fighting a federal lawsuit that accuses it of providing grossly inadequate health care, issued a contract to Wexford this week as part of the state Legislature's attempts to save money by privatizing prison health care.

• See the Wexford contract 
 
Wexford, which is due to take control of operations by June 1, said in its contract with the state that it will:
• Hire the equivalent of at least 781 full-time health-care workers, a number that is a 30 percent increase from Corrections' current health-care-staffing level.

• Offer the 600 current correctional health-care employees first crack at the jobs and won't cut the salaries of any of those workers it hires.

• Have nursing staff on hand at every state prison 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is not currently the case.

• Provide every correctional officer in the system 40 hours of training on dealing with mentally ill inmates.
• Have its medical staff monitor inmates in isolation daily and have mental-health staff see those inmates at least weekly, representing a significant increase in frequency.

The company promises to do all this for $116.3 million a year, which is more than the $111.3 million the Department of Corrections spent on health care last fiscal year. In that year, 20 to 25 percent of health-care positions were unfilled, with the department slow to replace employees who left before the pending privatization.

But Wexford's budget would be less than the roughly $120 million the department projected spending this fiscal year. Wexford plans to keep $5.4 million as profit and spend $2.7 million on out-of-state administrative expenses. It is headquartered in Pittsburgh.

Some prison-system observers are raising questions about whether the company can provide the savings the state hopes for while providing significant improvements in service.

"There are reasons for great skepticism" that Wexford can deliver what it promises, said Caroline Isaacs, director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee, a prison-watchdog group. "One is that Wexford has a clear pattern of not living up to its commitments in other contracts," and another, she said, is that the Department of Corrections has a history of failing to hold other contractors, such as private-prison operators, accountable when they haven't lived up to the terms of their contracts.

Lowering expenses

Wexford spokeswoman Wendelyn Pekich said the company is still identifying, in cooperation with Corrections, where it can cut costs and improve efficiencies while providing what she termed "an industry-standard quality of care." As possible areas for improvement, she cited more efficient staffing patterns, improved training and record keeping, and use of telemedicine -- diagnosing patients remotely via video.

Rep. John Kavanagh, House Appropriations Committee chairman, who led the push in the Legislature for privatizing correctional health care, said he expects the company will cut costs and save the state money by, for example, bringing into the prisons some services for which inmates are now transported.

The switch to privatization comes at a time when the state is fighting a lawsuit over allegations of inadequate prisoner care and defending itself against accusations by Amnesty International of inhumane treatment of prisoners.

A federal lawsuit, filed against the Department of Corrections last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office of San Quentin, Calif., alleges that inmates have died, been disfigured or permanently harmed by poor medical care in state-run prisons and that mentally ill inmates held in isolation often go months without seeing a psychologist or getting counseling.

If privatization improves care, that's a bonus for Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. "The caliber of service wasn't an issue" in the state prison system at the time lawmakers voted to privatize prison health care, he said. Lawmakers weren't aware of the allegations -- which he stressed are not yet proved -- in the ACLU lawsuit.
The impetus for privatization, Kavanagh said, "was always to save money in tough economic times."

In the contract, Wexford offered some specific examples of ways it may save money: for example, hiring an oral surgeon who will travel a circuit of the prisons to extract teeth and perform other procedures for which inmates currently must be taken to outside providers, escorted and transported by correctional officers.

Wexford noted in the contract that it and the state also will save money beginning in 2014, when the majority of inmates will become Medicaid-eligible and reimbursement rates for Medicaid will increase by half because of changes related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

However, the contract and bid documents provided to Corrections by Wexford raise questions about how fully the company disclosed performance issues elsewhere. Wexford lists 20 contracts it said ended either because the company lost a rebid or didn't rebid, among other reasons.

Some problems

In one example, Wexford said it opted not to renew a contract with Clark County, Wash., that expired at the beginning of 2010. Wexford noted that an independent audit "cited several instances of poor operations, which were already in effect when Wexford Health took over the contract" in 2007.

Although there were pre-existing problems, that audit, by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, was more critical than Wexford admitted. It concluded that "Wexford has systematically failed to comply" with its contract and had failed to provide adequate staffing, properly licensed staff, and adequate and timely medical service.

The auditors, who said they examined Wexford's record elsewhere, wrote that "past experience in other counties reveals that jail administrators typically put up with Wexford's cost cutting and substandard level of care until the problems become too egregious to be borne."

Wexford disputed the allegations.

In Mississippi, Wexford said that a 2007 audit by a state legislative committee made "recommendations related to documentation and record keeping."

Wexford didn't disclose that the audit was harshly critical of both the company and state corrections officials for failing to provide timely, adequate medical care. Nor did it disclose that the audit said Mississippi's Department of Corrections failed to collect $931,310 in fines its chief medical officer recommended against Wexford after the company charged the state for more staff members than it actually provided.

Mississippi's Department of Corrections didn't respond to requests for comment. In its bid documents, Wexford said that it addressed the audit's concerns and that Mississippi renewed its contract. Wexford said that, in Mississippi, it collaborated with the American Civil Liberties Union to get a consent decree lifted last year that had been imposed by a federal court, requiring that state to improve its correctional medical care.
ACLU officials in Mississippi did not respond to requests for comment.

Wexford's bid noted a $12,500 fine by New Mexico's Department of Corrections in 2006 "for infirmary rounds/physicals not conducted within contracted time frames," an issue it said it corrected. Wexford didn't mention that a 2007 audit by a state legislative finance committee reported extensive medical-staff shortages and long delays in reporting inmate deaths, among other problems.

Wexford disclosed that it was fined $106,000 by Ohio's Correction Department in 2009 for contract violations for what it described as "non-critical incidents," such as failing to fill a vacancy or comply with procedures for disposing of used "sharps." In its bid document, Wexford said it addressed the problems and has been in compliance with its Ohio contract ever since.

Wexford listed other fines, including $50,000 by Chesapeake, Va., in 2006 for staffing shortages; three fines totaling $273,000 by Florida's Department of Corrections in 2005 for what it described as "service-delivery issues that were resolved" before the contract's end; and a $68,000 fine by the Broward Sheriff's Office in Florida in 2003 for delays in providing medical services.

The company also noted in its bid document that, over the five years ending Sept. 1, 2011, it received 794 formal or informal legal claims, including many that it termed "frivolous 'alleged deliberate indifference' " suits. The company said it settled 18 claims confidentially for a total of $252,425 and won six claims in court.

Arizona's contract

Arizona's contract with Wexford took effect Tuesday and goes into full operation June 1. It gives the Department of Corrections authority to impose fines or suspend or terminate the contract for violations of its terms. The fine amounts vary according to the severity and extent of the violation, from $10,000 for an act of deliberate indifference that risks an inmate's health or safety to those of $25,000 a day or more. Corrections also will have on-site monitors at every prison and will conduct quarterly audits, according to the contract.

One state health-care employee, who asked not to be identified, said that whatever happens with Wexford, "the only way to go is up." According to allegations in the ACLU/Prison Law Office suit, Corrections systematically and unconstitutionally fails to provide adequate care to inmates and has done so for years. The department has not filed a legal response to the allegations.