Rikers Island Health Company Named in Lawsuit for Slain Inmate Won’t Pay a Dime of $5.75 Million Settlement
New York City has agreed to pay $5.75 million to the family of Bradley Ballard, a mentally ill inmate on Rikers Island who was found dead in solitary confinement after being denied water and medication for six days.
The payout represents the largest the city has ever made to settle a lawsuit over the death of an inmate in custody, according to the New York Times. But in addition to the Department of Correction, there was another defendant named in the lawsuit: Corizon Inc., a private company contracted by the city specifically to provide medical care to inmates. They will not be paying a dime.
Ballard, who was 39 at the time of his death in 2013, was placed in solitary after allegedly making lewd gestures at a female guard. Though he was diagnosed with diabetes and schizophrenia, he received little to no medical attention during the seven days he spent alone. By the time someone did finally check in on him, Ballard was was dead, his body covered in feces and a rubber band tied tightly around his genitals. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
Asked why it’s the city, not Corizon, who will be footing the bill for the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the city’s law department said only that it’s a "complex legal situation" and declined to discuss it further.
Not THAT complex, countered Jonathan Abady, one of the lawyers who represented Ballard’s family, who explained that Corizon had an indemnification provision in its contract with the city.
"Corizon invoked that provision during the course of the litigation, and in the settlement negotiations as a basis for refusing to compensate," he told the Voice. "It’s a troubling scenario." A spokesperson for Corizon referred questions about the settlement to the city.
The indemnification provision, however, is only one aspect of what makes Corizon’s business practices so alarming. Last year, the New York State Commission of Correction, an independent watchdog agency, issued a report citing the "gross incompetence" of the Department of Correction and Corizon, concluding that its handling of Ballard’s health was "so incomplete and inadequate as to shock the conscience." Following Ballard’s death, a Corizon mental health unit chief charged with overseeing inmates was not fired, but simply transferred "to a smaller jail with fewer responsibilities."
A few months later, the city’s Department of Investigation released its own, equally damning report detailing the many problems with Corizon’s personnel, revealing that the company had hired doctors and other employees with serious criminal convictions, including murder and kidnapping. The report states that there was "no evidence that Corizon conducted a candidate background investigation of any kind" for 89 of the 185 workers it reviewed, which probably explains how they ended up hiring a mental health clinician who had been involved in a stabbing death. Miraculously, Corizon remains the largest private correctional healthcare provider in the country, and as of last year oversaw more than 50 prisons in 27 states. Abady notes that not all municipalities with whom Corizon does business have been roped into similar indemnification clauses, either.
Following release of the reports, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he’d be letting Corizon’s contract expire at the end of 2015, replacing it instead with a city agency called NYC Health & Hospitals.
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Corizon may be out, but the effects of its many misdeeds are still being brought to bear in the form of pending lawsuits from families of Rikers inmates. In 2015, the city paid $3.8 million to the family of Jason Echevarria, a mentally ill inmate who in 2012 died in solitary after swallowing a toxic soap ball. In 2013, just months prior to Ballard’s death, a nineteen-year-old inmate named Andy Henriquez perished in his cell from a tear in his aorta.
Henriquez had been treated for costochondritis — inflammation in or around the ribs — the night before his death, and though correction officers were supposed to check on him every fifteen minutes, no one did, despite reports from other inmates that Henriquez could be heard shouting for help from his cell immediately prior to his death.
In 2014, his mother filed a lawsuit against Corizon, though its current status is unclear. The Voice reached out to the comptroller’s office to find out how many lawsuits have been filed against the company. We’ll update if we hear back.
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