AUGUSTA – In a letter to the Government Oversight Committee last week, advocates called for a review of health care in Maine state correctional facilities by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA). The letter, signed by the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition (MPAC), ACLU of Maine, Maine Council of Churches (MCC) and the NAACP Portland branch detailed hundreds of serious complaints received from prisoners since 2012. In response, the committee has asked for more information from both the advocacy groups and the Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC), which they will consider at their meeting on February 28.
“The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees prisoners a right to medical care and protects them against deliberate indifference to their serious medical needs. It is of the utmost importance that there is public oversight of their care to ensure that consideration of the bottom line does not overtake those constitutional rights,” said Grainne Dunne, justice organizer at the ACLU of Maine.
OPEGA previously undertook a review of health care services in state correctional facilities in 2011 that revealed numerous issues with the quality of care offered by the private health care company Corizon. Following the release of that report, MDOC terminated their contract with Corizon.
In 2012 MDOC contracted with another for-profit health care company, Correct Care Solutions (CCS). While CCS has been open to increased transparency and dialog with prisoners’ advocates, several concerns remain and have gone unaddressed by MDOC despite requests from advocacy groups.
“As we have seen time and again, privatizing our prison and jail facilities and services leads to the pursuit of profit over all other correctional priorities - jeopardizing the health, safety and well-being of our prisoners, corrections employees and our communities,” said Steven Lewicki, coordinator of MPAC.
According to the letter, since 2012 MPAC has received a high volume of inmate correspondence indicating that several of the issues raised in the 2011 report have not been resolved. The letters also raise new issues not included in the 2011 report. Problems related to care are particularly acute among the elderly and aging portion of the population, whose specialized health and medical needs are increasingly going unmet.
Of particular concern, CCS was recently awarded the contract for the new mental health unit at the Maine State Prison, which will begin taking patients formerly under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“While we have successfully resisted the building of private prisons in Maine, we are increasingly relying on privatized services within the facilities. Privatized services raise the same concerns as privatized facilities, and deserve the same scrutiny,” said Leslie Manning, chair of the MCC policy committee.
"Given the broad scope of problems that have been brought to our attention, from a lack of access to care to disturbingly low basic standards, the time has come for the state to undertake a new review of health care services in our correctional facilities,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP Portland branch.
The full text of the letter, including a catalog of serious medical complaints received by MPAC since 2012, is available online at: www.aclumaine.org/media/785