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Jail shouldn’t be a death sentence

Barbed wire surrounds the Nassau County Jail in

Barbed wire surrounds the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow on March 2, 2012. Credit: Ed Betz

By mid-2015, it was clear that the medical care provided to inmates at Nassau County’s jail was inadequate. Seven had died after Armor Correctional Health Services took over in 2011, and in several cases the state Commission of Correction found fault with the company.

In Roy Nordstrom’s death in 2011, the commission called the care given “grossly incompetent.” In Bartholomew Ryan’s suicide in 2012, psychiatric care to the combat veteran was “inadequate.” The 2014 deaths of Kevin Brown and John Gleeson “may have been prevented” with better care. And in Antonio Marinaccio Jr.’s death in 2015, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Marinaccio did not get a crucial exam or critical medications.

Regardless of those warning signs, the county extended Armor’s $11 million-per-year contract for two years in mid-2015. It did so without soliciting bids from other companies, a move that was both illegal and insupportable. Since the extension, five more inmates have died, and the state commission says at least four of the deaths raise “serious concerns” about Armor’s care.

Now Schneiderman has sued, demanding the county hire a monitor to oversee Armor’s compliance until its contract runs out in mid-2017, and that Armor be barred from bidding on future contracts in the state and submit to financial penalties. County Executive Edward Mangano says he will hire the monitor — an improvement that is too little, too late.

Mangano has argued that the county can’t sever the agreement with Armor without leaving Nassau liable for damages. But that does not appear to be an accurate reading of the contract, which says the county can drop Armor at any time with cause, and with 30 days’ notice no matter what.

Given the deaths, it should have done so long ago. Instead, the county only issued a request for proposals in March for a new provider with bids not due until next month. County officials say they hope to have a new provider in place by October.

The county can’t do much else at this point. But it can do better going forward. According to Schneiderman’s investigation, Armor so badly failed to do self-audits, meet care benchmarks and answer sick call requests that it owes the county about $6 million in penalties and damages. Why the county extended Armor’s contract in 2015 with no bid process when the company was already under fire for inmate deaths deserves a full investigation not only by Schneiderman but by the county legislature. Where are the oversight hearings by a supposedly independent branch of government? Will they even check whether Mangano actually claws back the misspent taxpayer dollars?

Armor’s mostly flat annual fee of $11 million set up a tremendous incentive for the company to increase profits by denying medical care. County officials have said privatizing the care previously provided by Nassau University Medical Center saved $7 million a year in health care costs and $10 million a year in overtime to correction officers.

There must be a way to manage jail operations without endangering inmates. — The editorial board


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