New report examines the grave risks of Corbett’s privatization plans in prison health care

In response to Governor Corbett’s recent proposals to outsource prison health care services while simultaneously initiating the largest reduction in the prison population in Pennsylvania history, The CLEAR Coalition and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania today released a report exposing the numerous risks of privatizing this core responsibility of government.

According to the report, “Department of Corrections Healthcare: Public Health and Safety in the Commonwealth’s Prisons,” serious security, public health, and legal problems could arise if the Governor’s plans materialize. 

Compared to Commonwealth nurses, nurses hired from agencies do not have the same level of training, experience in security protocols or commitment to educating inmates about managing their diseases upon return to the community, which could jeopardize public health. “We not only provide healthcare but security and accountability,” says Michele Harker who works at SCI Huntingdon, “Corrections is a core government service, and when politicians try to cut corners, it puts our fellow
employees and communities at risk.” 

The report also provides numerous instances from other states that show the failed promise of prison privatization in terms of dollars saved, public health protected and prison employee safety upheld. For example, “In 2000, the South Carolina General Assembly conducted a review of the state’s use of subcontracted healthcare in its prisons. The report documents the experience with subcontracted healthcare in the SC prison system was rife with problems that ranged from very poor medical care to cost over-runs and substantial funds spent on services that were never

In September 2011, Governor Corbett announced plans to seek bids from subcontractors to fill nursing and medical service jobs in the Department of Corrections (DOC). Currently, the Commonwealth subcontracts certain medical, psychiatric, and pharmacy services in state prisons and is seeking to renew these contracts and greatly expand the current private healthcare services in the DOC.

But rising opposition both in the public and legislature casts a shadow on the Governor’s plan. Lawmakers from both parties are showing support for legislation that would prohibit outsourcing of nursing services at state prisons. Currently there are two bills, HB 1985, introduced by Representative Mike Fleck and SB 1342, introduced by Senator David Argall that would prohibit state funds from being used to privatize nursing in the DOC.

The CLEAR Coalition and SEIU Healthcare PA released this report a week away from an upcoming House Majority Policy Committee hearing on Friday, March 16th, at 10:00 AM at Juniata College sponsored by Rep. Mike Fleck. The Committee Hearing will receive testimony from direct caregivers at DOC facilities, and from those who support and caution against outsourcing in the DOC. For the DOC nurses traveling to participate in the hearing, it is a chance to educate the legislature on the irreplaceable value of their service. “Our politicians and the public need to hear from those who will be directly affected by this decision,” says Michele Harker, “There are people’s lives and jobs at stake. Money isn’t everything – we need to keep DOC nurses in place to maintain the highest quality of healthcare and level of security and safety.”