Report finds that privatization of prison health care does not work

A new federal court report suggests that Arizona prison health care should be public, not private. The report is based off of a 2011 law passed by the legislature that mandates the privatization of prison health care. 

A 2018 lawsuit filed by a number of Arizona inmates against the state, found that the state was failing to provide adequate health care in correctional facilities. The court found that the state was failing to comply with the private health care company contracted to provide care, and  levied nearly $1.4 million in fees against the state. 

“The State turned to a private contractor which has been unable to meet the prisoners’ health care needs. Rather than push its contractor to meet those needs, the State has instead paid them more and rewarded them with financial incentives while limiting the financial penalties for non-compliance,” the Parsons v. Ryan case explains. 

Correctional health care consultant, Marc Stern, was hired by the courts to evaluate the status of prison health care in the state. He looked at patient databases, and did numerous site tours and interviews with patients. 

Stern’s report found that additional funding is needed, and that privatization is not the best method for providing health care. 


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The report explains that attorneys for the inmates agree with his findings, while attorneys for the state explain that many of Sterns’s recommendations are outside the scope of what the Department of Corrections (DOC) is able to do. 

The report suggests that funding is a critical issue when it comes to prison health care. While DOC officials feel that the issue of funding is a problem for the legislature, Stern states that health care cannot improve without adequate funding. 

“…the gap between what ADC [Arizona Department of Corrections] is currently spending on health care and what is should be spending on health care is at least $74 million,” the report explains. 

While funding is key, Stern explains that appropriate health care can be provided in the absence of funding.  The privatization of care is unnecessarily costly to the state because of the inappropriate staffing, and the for-profit motives. 

The legislature, the report suggests, should increase funding to prison health care. Putting the money towards increasing salaries could help provide better care. This would allow better staffing in rural areas, and also provide more specialized care in individual facilities, a key complaint from inmates.