In response to recent Allegheny County Jail inmates’ deaths, allegedly caused by poor medical care, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced last month that the contract with Corizon Health to provide medical services at the jail would not be renewed and will expire in August.
That’s not soon enough for Tomi Lynn Harris who said her son Frank Smart, 39, died in January at UPMC after being denied seizure medication by jail medical staff.
“He told them he had seizures. He begged for his medicine,” she said. “They handcuffed him when he was spitting blood and peeing on himself. I don’t say he needed to be released, I say he needed to be alive.”
Harris joined more than a dozen protesters from New Voices Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County Health Justice Project at the jail May 29 calling for the immediate termination of the Corizon contract and the appointment of a new medical director and team.
Carrying signs with the names of other inmates who died in jail custody this year—Timothy Melvin Haskell, Timothy Leininger and Monty Crawford—the protesters also called for Warden Orlando Harper to resign.
“All of them died because of neglect and a lack of compassion from county officials and staff at this jail,” said organizer Julia Johnson. “People here died because they were not given medicine they begged for.”
Corizon has been under fire since being hired by the county Sept. 1, 2013. Since then the death rate at the jail has been nearly twice the national average. Two inmates, Crawford, 23, and Leininger, 27, both died there May 21. Haskell died in Jail custody in April.
Fitzgerald announced his decision terminating Corizon May 22, saying, “In light of what happened this week, we think it’s important to make this announcement publicly.”
Johnson said waiting until August to replace Corizon is unacceptable, and following the rally outside the jail, the protesters led a march to the county courthouse where they restated their demands.
“We have mothers who’ve lost children,” she said. “We demand the county hire an interim director for the Allegheny County Jail within the next 30 days, who will be held accountable to the county executive; public input and oversight in selecting a new health care provider, and the immediate removal of Warden Orlando Harper.”
In response, county spokesperson Amie Downs said she had no response beyond what had previously been said.
“We will not extend the contract with Corizon and have jointly agreed to end our existing relationship at the end of the term on August 31, 2015,” she said. “We will be bringing Jail Medical in house, working with partners to provide the specialized services. We will make further announcements moving forward.”
Harris isn’t satisfied.
“I never even got a call from the jail when he died. I called to talk to him and they say, ‘Oh, he died,’” she said. “He was killed. Warden Harper signed my son’s death certificate.”
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