Prison Healthcare in Limbo

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The fate of more than 1,800 prison health care professionals is up in the air tonight and in the hands of a circuit judge.

A small committee of state lawmakers voted to allow all prison health care in the state to be privatized.

Opponents say the small committee exceeded its authority in an attempt to thwart the will of the full legislature.

The state budget lists more than 200 specific appropriations to fund state prisons.

Nowhere in any of those items and the directions that come with them is the privatizing of prison health care services mentioned.

But that didn’t stop this small group of lawmakers from giving the department the okay to out-source health care to a private company.

Now the plan is in court, where a judge asked how that could be done without the money being specified for a contract.

“Why? I thought that was always the law, that you had to appropriate money to enter into a contract”, questions Judge John Cooper, 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Opponents aren’t saying the state can’t privatize prison health care, what they are saying it has to be agreed to by the whole legislature.” That’s part of what democracy is.

It gives us the opportunity to debate these issues to do it in a transparent way and for the people’s voices to be heard and for the majority to rule”, says Alma Gonzales, AFSCME. “And that never happened in this case”, agreed Thomas Brooks, attorney.

Until the judge rules, the state has put the brakes on transferring health care to the private company. “The Department of Corrections does believe that we have the authority to privatize health care services”, says Ann Howard, Department of Corrections, Spokesperson.

The lack of certainty is leaving JoAnne Mendez and 18 hundred other prison health care workers in limbo. “They’re afraid that they’re going to lose the only job they have right now”, says Mendez.

And not knowing if they’ll have a job in January, or if they’ll keep their pensions and health care is making for a bleak and uncertain Christmas for 1800 families.

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