Gov. Susana Martinez was silent Monday when asked through a spokesman for reaction to the findings of the Santa Fe New Mexican investigation into the lack of oversight of medical care delivered to state prison inmates by Corizon Health, a Tennessee company that has faced over 150 lawsuits by more than 200 inmates in the state since 2007 over allegations of negligent care, civil rights violations and sexual abuse.

The spokesman for Republican governor, a former prosecutor, did not return requests for comment on the six-month investigation, published Sunday, which found that warnings about the quality of Corizon’s care went unheeded.

Those warnings came internally from department employees about the lack of auditing of the contract as well as from the inmates themselves, who claim in lawsuits that Corizon denied or delayed care for health issues ranging from a hand crushed by a prison door to breast cancer that went untreated, even as the inmate’s breast turned purple, swelling to twice its size.

A state judge set one prisoner free after finding that his treatment by prison and medical staff — who repeatedly delayed getting him a prosthetic leg that fit, forcing him to hop around for four years — amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

How much Corizon, the nation’s largest for-profit provider of inmate health care, has paid in settlements is unknown. The company has refused to divulge that information, and the Corrections Department said it doesn’t know because under the terms of its contract with the company, Corizon is required to defend itself in litigation, even when the state is a co-defendant.

Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which sometimes sues government bodies in the state that violate public record laws, said in an email Monday that its leadership plans to further investigate the issue of settlements between inmates and Corizon being kept secret.

Boe pointed to a 2012 New Mexico Court of Appeals ruling in the case Toomey v. City of Truth or Consequences in which judges held a private company that contracted with the city to record commission meetings had to turn over the recordings when someone requested them under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.

“As previously stated, these settlement documents need to be turned over under a public records request,” she said. “The settlements arose because of inadequate medical treatment while prisoners were in the custody of the state.”

Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, on Monday also said such settlements should be open for inspection.

“Corizon is performing a government function and providing services as a government actor,” he said. “And they should therefore be held accountable to any laws that the state or any other government entity are held to.”

Corizon’s contract ends at the end of May. It is among the companies bidding to win a new contract to provide medical care for approximately 7,000 inmates in state custody. Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel also did not respond to requests for comment Monday on whether the new contract would contain similar litigation provisions.

Simonson said the New Mexico branch receives hundreds of complaints annually from inmates who say they’re not receiving proper medical care.

The New Mexican’s investigation found that despite the red flags raised by the lawsuits, the Corrections Department allowed Corizon to operate almost unregulated. Of about 160 medical care audits that should have been done between 2012 and 2015, the department could only produce records of 20.



New Mexico is one of about 25 states that has no independent oversight of prison conditions, which the ACLU and the American Bar Association have called on states to institute.

“Some sort of independent monitoring body would act in the best interests of all parties,” Simonson said. “Ultimately, it could serve the state by preventing costly litigation; it could serve inmates and their families by ensuring that inmates receive proper medical care.”

Deb Haaland, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, on Monday called The New Mexican’s findings “disturbing.” But she said she wasn’t sure if an independent oversight monitor was needed if the Corrections Department did its job properly.

“The thing that pops into my mind initially is that the Martinez administration has not taken the proper steps to ensure our prison population is receiving the health care it should,” she said.

State Auditor Tim Keller, a Democrat, said Monday through a spokeswoman that his office has “has been waving red flags that have gone unaddressed” in the state’s contract with Corizon.

“The lack of corrective action impacts both the financial checks and balances at the agency as well as the basic care of prisoners,” he said. “These problems are far from technicalities and should be fixed immediately.”

The New Mexican emailed the article to spokespersons for all five members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation. A spokeswoman with Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, responded, saying staffers in his office read the article and will be examining the issue further.

State Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, who in 2015 sponsored Senate Memorial 132, which directed the Department of Corrections to form a task force to study cost and quality of inmate medical care, said Monday she hadn’t read the story and so she had no comment.

The task force has met only twice — once in February and again last month — since the measure passed a year ago.

The co-chairs of the Legislature’s Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso, and Richard Martinez, D-Española, did not immediately respond to messages left Monday. The same committee in 2007 requested a legislative review of the previous medical care provider to state prison inmates, which afterward lost its contract with the state. Corizon, then known as Correctional Medical Services, took over the contract that year.

Martha Harbin, a Corizon spokeswoman, on Monday said the company was working on an op-ed piece in response to the New Mexican’s investigation. She declined to comment further.

Contact Justin Horwath at 505-986-3017 or jhorwath@sfnewmexican.com. Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com.

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