Corizon contract opponent David Grosso

Can Muriel Bowser succeed where Vince Gray failed? In the last days of his lame duck mayoral term, Gray tried to earn D.C. Council approval for a new D.C. Jail health contract, only to drop the $66 million contract award when it foundered at the Council. Now Bowser, who submitted the contract to the Council yesterday, is trying again.

Bowser’s problem is that Corizon Health Inc., the Tennessee-based company that won the contract, doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation with prison advocates. Corizon’s care in other prisons has inspired a long line of lawsuits, raising the threat of more lawsuits against the District, according to critics. In December, the ACLU’s District chapter urged councilmembers to oppose the contract.

“Their reputation in the field of people who care about prisoner’s health and prisoner’s well-being is pretty abysmal,” says Alex Friedmann, the managing editor of Prison Legal News. 

That reputation didn’t stop the District from awarding the contract to Corizon over the jail’s current provider, Unity Health Care.

“The simple fact is that Corizon submitted the highest value package with a higher level of care,” Bowser spokesman Michael Czin writes in an email.

It’s not clear whether Bowser has built more support for the contractor than her predecessor. The last time the contract came up, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson worried that Corizon “has a reputation for attracting a lot of lawsuits.”

In the run-up to Bowser’s new push, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso and Corizon CEO Woodrow Augustus Myers Jr. battled it out over the contract in dueling letters. In Grosso’s letter, he listed a number of lawsuits against Corizon. Myers’ letter to Grosso disputed his claims and pointed out that Grosso usually isn’t so eager to interfere in contract approvals.

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery