Corizon contract opponent David Grosso
Corizon contract opponent David Grosso

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Endorsements from two mayors and a heavy lobbying campaign weren’t enough to convince the D.C. Council to let controversial correctional health provider Corizon take over at the D.C. Jail. After months of wrangling with the Tennessee-based company, a slim majority of the Council voted to disapprove the jail health contract backed by Muriel Bowser.

The dispute came down between six opponents of the contract, which looks bad because of Corizon’s record for attracting lawsuits over its allegedly deficient inmate care, and proponents who either want the Council out of contract approval or because they actually think it’s a good deal.

After a motion to change an approval resolution from backer Vincent Orange was amended by six councilmembers to become a disapproval (a majority on the temporarily eleven-member Council), the contract’s fate was clear. Charles AllenMary ChehDavid GrossoPhil MendelsonBrianne Nadeau, and Elissa Silverman voted to disapprove, while Yvette AlexanderAnita BondsJack EvansKenyan McDuffie, and Vincent Orange voted against efforts to shut down the contract. With the contract blocked, current jail health provider Unity will keep running jail health services for now.

The dais fight put opponents of the deal in an awkward spot, since many of them are the same good-government-minded councilmembers who generally oppose Council interference in contracting. Before introducing his resolution, Orange read off a list of councilmembers who want the Council to lose its contracting powers who are now opposed to the Corizon contract.

“Sometimes one strong, principled stance must outweigh another strong, principled stance,” Grosso, the Council’s most outspoken opponent of both the contract and the Council’s contract approval power, said.

Orange argued that the deal had already been approved by the Office of Contracting and Procurement in two mayoral administrations, as well as the chairmen of relevant Council committees.

“We all know that the Bowser admin and the [Vince] Gray administration were like oil and water, but they both came to the conclusion that this was the appropriate avenue,” Orange said.

In an emailed statement, Bowser spokesman Michael Czin pointed to Corizon’s success in the Office of Contracting and Procurement’s bidding process. “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,” Czin said.

(The argument that OCP approval should be enough for the contract is strange for Bowser, since, just yesterday, she told the Council that she was so unhappy with Gray’s contracting boss that she paid $40,000 to push him out of her new administration).

In a statement, Corizon CEO Dr. Woodrow A. Myers, Jr. said he was “disappointed, not solely for our company, but also for the District.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery