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  • Madison Gestiehr

Incarcerated and ignored: The consequences of a contract with YesCare

Trigger Warning: Medical Neglect 

Picture yourself crawling on the floor, clutching your chest as you moan in pain. You lock eyes with nursing staff and other bystanders as you plead for help at the top of your lungs, but no one comes to your aid. It’s at this point where you begin to writhe in pain as you suffer a stroke, only to be handed Ibuprofen to endure the pain. This story is not a made-up hypothetical; it is the tragic account of what happened in 2023 to Calvin C. Murray, an incarcerated individual housed at the Eastern Correctional Institute in Maryland. Mr. Murray suffered a mild stroke due to a heart rhythm disorder, which left him partially paralyzed for six days.

Mr. Murray’s story is, unfortunately, not unique. Every day, incarcerated individuals are denied adequate medical treatment by Maryland’s contracted prison medical provider, YesCare. Mr. Murray has since sued the private company for their subpar medical response, which was to give him 600 milligrams of Ibuprofen. 

Mr. Murray’s lawsuit against YesCare is one of more than a half-dozen lawsuits filed in federal court by incarcerated individuals in Maryland against the company in 2023. Additional lawsuits against YesCare involve cases where incarcerated individuals were denied treatment for deep vein thrombosis, lipoma, and medication for their seizure disorder.  

If these issues weren’t grave enough, an evaluation of YesCare (which was formerly known as “Corizon”), written by Private Equity Stakeholder Project researcher Michael Fenne, documents how the private company did the “Texas Two-Step” to manipulate bankruptcy law to evade liabilities for the conditions of the incarcerated patients in its care. The Texas Two-Step is a controversial legal strategy that allows companies to avoid liability by “splitting [a] company into two different entities—one with most of the assets and the other burdened with the majority of liabilities—and then filing the debt-laden entity into bankruptcy. Using this tactic, YesCare was able to continue to operate while shedding liabilities against it stemming from over 1,000 lawsuits filed by incarcerated individuals and their families, which alleged substandard medical care, into a different business entity. 

Some of the claims brought by incarcerated individuals and their families against YesCare under its former name “Corizon” include incidents of inadequate treatment for acute and chronic illnesses. For example, one family filed a lawsuit after their incarcerated relative died just three days into his six-day sentence after Corizon providers ignored his complaints of intense pain related to an entirely treatable pre-existing condition. Other claims have brought attention to the staggering issues of inadequate psychological care within correctional facilities. For instance, one suit exposed Corizon for only staffing one psychiatrist in a detention center housing 400 individuals who were struggling with their mental health. Additional claims have shed light on Corizon’s failure to adequately staff facilities, such as one in Oregon which they left without a registered nurse for almost 20% of the time, despite a requirement that a registered nurse be available and on call at all times. Claims have also highlighted Corizon’s refusal to prescribe appropriate medications. One nurse alleged that she was explicitly asked by Corizon “not to prescribe medications that [she] felt . . . were necessary.” 

Despite YesCare’s shadiness, bad reputation, and track record of providing substandard healthcare to incarcerated individuals, Maryland officials have chosen to extend its contract with the controversial, for-profit medical care provider. Governor Wes Moore and Treasurer Dereck Davis are among those who voted in favor of extending the contract, which will pay the company $125 million for the next nine months to provide medical care to the 20,000 people in Maryland’s state-run correctional facilities. 

Everyone, regardless of whether or not they are incarcerated, deserves unhindered access to quality health care. Unfortunately, our society, government, and carceral system facilitate the exclusion of incarcerated individuals from public consciousness, effectively blocking efforts to recognize and address incarcerated people’s healthcare needs. However, this deliberate isolation does not diminish an incarcerated person’s entitlement to the same level of health care that we demand for ourselves. 

Maryland’s decision to extend its contract with YesCare will undoubtedly have damaging consequences on the incarcerated population in Maryland and their families. This decision will likely result in preventable deaths and unnecessary suffering among incarcerated individuals who rely on YesCare for essential medical services. By continuing YesCare’s contract, Maryland officials are perpetuating a system that prioritizes profit over human rights—rights that extend to all individuals, including those in custody. 

We must do better.


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