Original article no longer available
The Daytona Beach News Journal
June 21, 2006
When Volusia County hired Prison Health Services to provide medical care at the jail, company officials said the corporation’s problems were in the past.
Those problems were significant. Several communities elsewhere severed contracts with Prison Health Services after learning that inmates were denied routine care. In some locales, inmates died after being refused medication — or committed suicide after company medical personnel missed signs that self-harm was imminent. One of the biggest complaints: Prison Health Services didn’t provide psychotropic drugs to inmates who had been stable on a regimen of medication before they were incarcerated.
It’s been nearly a year since the County Council voted to jettison Halifax Medical Center — which had been providing a high standard of care at the jail — and hire Prison Health Services. County staff members said the county stood to save $2.2 million over four years by switching providers. But that savings can’t justify maintaining a contract if Prison Health Services isn’t performing up to par. It’s time for county officials to make sure they’re buying good care.
The question of health care in jails is an important one. Many of the people incarcerated in the jail have not been tried, and so should be considered innocent. Among those who have already been convicted, the vast majority of prisoners are serving time on relatively petty charges. With no ability to seek treatment by doctors of their own, a stay in jail could mean a death sentence for people with serious illnesses that require medication — people like Brian Tetrault, a 44-year-old man who died an agonizingly slow death in a upstate New York prison after Prison Health Services officials failed to give him most of his medication.
Now, complaints are surfacing in Volusia County. A local minister said her ex-husband turned violent and irrational after being taken off his anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication during a short stay at the jail. Local defense attorneys say their clients are showing signs of being deprived of their medication as well — impairing their ability to participate in their own defense. Chief Circuit Judge William Parsons and Public Defender James Purdy are planning to meet with Prison Health officials to discuss the problems.
The County Council should be equally concerned and eager to investigate. It could well be that Prison Health Services has learned from its past turmoil, but county officials can’t afford to take that on faith.