Thursday, March 3, 2011

Perverse Legal Tactics

Correctional Medical Services (CMS) is a private, for-profit healthcare provider that works in prisons and jails across the country. They sometimes provide services under contract to private prisons, sometimes to state governments looking to outsource medical care. But regardless of their contractual situation, one thing is clear; to say the service they provide is substandard simply would not do the situation justice.

As with all private, for-profit entities involved in the criminal justice system, profit trumps all, especially concerns for prisoners' health. Among the horror stories coming out of just the state of New Mexico, "One inmate allegedly died from preventable complications of a perforated ulcer—after begging for treatment for six days. Another lost all vision in his eye after medical staff allegedly neglected to dispense the antibiotics outside doctors had prescribed for his infection. One inmate had to have his big toe amputated after doctors allegedly misdiagnosed a common staph infection as gout and treated it with over-the-counter painkillers."

So you may be wondering how a company seemingly incapable of providing medical care continues to find work in our nation's prisons and jails. You're not alone. It turns out they have a very effective, and very perverse, legal strategy that has helped insulate the company from nay major damage from lawsuits. CMS has developed a reputation for being a "bad corporate citizen." Not only are they continuously under scrutiny for failing to live up to their contractual obligations, CMS is also the frequent target of lawsuits filed by prisoners who have been neglected or otherwise denied medical care.

Essentially, CMS' legal strategy boils down to prolonging litigation as much as possible to force the prisoners who sue them to capitulate. The longer a trial goes on, the more legal fees prisoners, who are often extremely poor or destitute to begin with, rack up. As legal fees compound, prisoners are incapable of paying attorneys to continue with the suit, and the case is eventually dropped. CMS doesn't even settle; they just draw out the lawsuit for so long with bogus tactics and ridiculous fights over minutiae that plaintiffs, who have been victimized by CMS's greedy business practices, literally run out of money.

So not only is CMS victimizing prisoners, and not only do they, like other private companies in the criminal justice system, continue to get contracts despite poor performance; they shield themselves from retribution. They take advantage of poor people, literally kill them, and pervert any semblance of justice. But possibly the worst part about this is that it protects CMS from the unavoidable public scrutiny of multiple lawsuits. By essentially sweeping these major violations of human rights under the rug, CMS protects itself from being viewed by the public as a company incapable of providing even a modicum of healthcare, which is exactly what it is.

It's despicable. Unfortunately, however, it's a common practice in the private, for-profit world (prison and otherwise). Look at what BP's doing. They started by intentionally under-reporting the spill to limit the amount of fines they'd have to pay. BP then drug its feet on paying out claims filed by Gulf residents whose livelihoods were destroyed. Most recently, they sought a court order to dismiss the majority of those suits. There is no accountability among the businesses in this country. They lie, cheat, and steal, then use the tremendous profits they've reaped to hire lawyers who insulate them from having to provide compensation for the horrors they wreak on our world.

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