Medical negligence is a huge problem at Rikers Island and New York City Council members are finally acknowledging it. At a criminal justice and Department of Health City Council hearing on Tuesday, council members slammed the private medical provider, Corizon, for its treatment of inmates at Rikers. The Observer reports:

“‘The allegations that have mounted over the years suggest that Corizon is failing to provide comprehensive and safe services to people under their care,’ Health Committee Chairman Corey Johnson said. ‘These reports suggest that treatment provided to inmates may have been a factor in at least 15 deaths over the past five years and that these deaths may have been preventable.’

…Councilwoman Inez Barron slammed the doctors for not mentioning the deaths: ‘It sends the signal that those lives are perhaps not as important as other lives, and I’m very offended that you wouldn’t at least mention that that’s a big problem.’”

Jails Action Coalition planned a rally outside the hearing Tuesday morning in support of improving health care – especially for mental health – at Rikers, replacing Corizon healthcare and action by the Department of Justice in response to the death of Bradley Ballard. Ballard was a mentally ill inmate who died in September 2013 after being denied his schizophrenia medication and medical care. Staff at Rikers “are required to do rounds in the mental observation housing area twice daily…failure to provide medical attention to a person who was completely restrained and unable to obtain help on his own is criminally negligent and requires prosecution,” said a JAC statement regarding Ballard.

Corizon has a long history of being involved with medical negligence that has led to or caused inmates’ deaths. In April 2013 a 19-year-old being held at Rikers died from treatable conditions in a solitary confinement cell despite calling out for medical help. Furthermore, information was kept secret on several deaths over the past ten years where Corizon and Rikers correctional officers were found responsible for neglect and systematic failures by the Department of Investigation. These deaths included Ken Loadholt, who died in Rikers of an asthma attack, and were uncovered by DNAinfo reporters last October.

Most recently, the family of Victor Woods filed a lawsuit against the city for his death in October of last year. The lawsuit states that Victor Woods bled to death because of an untreated ulcer while he was detained at Rikers. Corizon allegedly misdiagnosed Woods, while correctional officers did nothing as Woods and other inmates pleaded for medical help.

Corizon has worked at Rikers since 2001 but their current contract expires at the end of this year. Some council members suggested replacing Corizon with a public health care provider, but it’s unclear if the criticism of healthcare at Rikers will go beyond stern words.

(Photo: Matt Green)