The D.C. Council voted, 6-5 on April 14, to deny Corizon Health, the country’s largest provider of health care services for incarcerated individuals, and its District affiliate, MBI Health Services, a $66 million, three-year contract. The contract was to provide medical services to inmates in the District’s correctional system. The contract was refused despite support of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and her predecessor, Vincent C. Gray.

This result did not please D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large). “We have a process in place where Corizon won the contract,” Orange, who bought the contract before the council on behalf of Bowser, said. “It was determined by the Office of Contracting and Procurement that this contract was better than Unity Health’s in a competitive bidding process.”

Corizon beat Unity Health by submitting a lower bid for meeting the needs of those incarcerated a few years ago. The contract was supposed to be ratified in December 2014 but the Gray administration pulled it from council consideration when it was clear that the votes for the contract to go through were not there.

Corizon has been criticized for its 660 lawsuits from incarcerated people in various states for providing poor health care. Dr. Sylvia McQueen, the vice president of clinical services at Corizon, told the AFRO that many of those suits were frivolous and those that had merit were settled. “We have a better record in settling lawsuits than Unity does in proportion to the population that we serve as opposed to whom they serve,” McQueen said.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) was joined by D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and David Grosso (I-At Large) in voting against the contract. Orange was joined by D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) to support Corizon.

If the Council had accepted the contract, Black-owned MBI Health Services would have made millions of dollars for treating incarcerated District residents. Each of the council’s Black members supported the contract while the only White to vote for it was Evans.

Grosso said that while he is sympathetic to Black businesses getting more city contracts, Corizon’s services aren’t good for District inmates. “Awarding this contract would be an absolute failure of government to protect the health and well being of District of Columbia residents who are in jail,” Grosso said. “Corizon’s medical history of failing to provide necessary medical care, allowing extreme delays in medical services to persist and operating substandard facilities cannot and should not be ignored. The circumstances surrounding this contract are too egregious to overlook.”

The NAACP D.C. Branch opposed the Corizon contract and sent council members a letter voicing its concerns. Akousa Ali, the branch president, said that inmate health is a public health issue. “Providing quality health care and medical treatment to inmates reduces the spread of infectious diseases, mental health problems, chronic diseases, and substance abuse,” Ali said. “The NAACP DC is committed to improving the quality of health care in jails, prisons and juvenile confinement facilities.”

Bowser wasn’t happy with the council’s action. “It is disappointing that the council rejected a contract that went through a fair bidding process over an 18-month period,” the mayor said. “As a result of the council’s action, District residents will continue to overpay a vendor that is servicing a declining population at the D.C. Jail. The council’s action will extend overpayment for care, which does not fully meet the health needs of a vulnerable population, until a new contract can be awarded.”

The anti-Corizon council members stood their ground even as McDuffie, the chairman of the Committee of the Judiciary, and Alexander, the chairman of the Committee on Health and Human Services, promised their colleagues that they would hold Corizon accountable if they won the contract.

Dr. Woodrow Myers Jr., chief executive officer of Corizon, expressed his unhappiness with the council vote but said his company is moving forward. “The company wishes the D.C. Department of Corrections and its residents well,” he said. “Corizon will continue to work to provide the best quality of health care for our current and future clients across the nation.”