The U.S. Department of Justice informed two Jacksonville lawmakers that it had referred their request for an investigation into the Duval County jail for internal review.
Federal prosecutors didn’t “confirm or deny” they were investigating the jail conditions and said the legislators “should not interpret this acknowledgement as confirmation of an investigation of the matters described in your letter,” according to a copy of the agency’s letter reviewed by The Tributary.
Democratic state Rep. Angie Nixon and Sen. Tracie Davis called for a federal investigation into the jail’s medical conditions under Armor Correctional Health Services after The Tributary revealed deaths in the jail had tripled since the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office privatized its health care.
The Sheriff’s Office, the Justice Department and the mayor’s office have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The Sheriff’s Office switched medical providers from Armor to NaphCare earlier this month.
Nixon told The Tributary she plans to respond to the Justice Department’s letter “to ask them to escalate” any potential investigation by expanding to a focus on JSO and its new contractor “because they’ve had plenty of problems too.”
The lawmakers’ Aug. 22 letter made a more isolated request to investigate how Armor handled the medical needs of inmates at Jacksonville’s jail before its contract got quashed.
But earlier this week, yet another person died in the jail’s custody. It marked the 12th such death this year and first since Naphcare took over healthcare duties Sept. 1 on a contract the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office gave it behind closed doors instead of through a standard competitive-bidding process. That’s also how Armor got its contract.
“These no-bid contracts are a problem,” Nixon said. “They need to vet contracts for healthcare providers in the jail.”
The latest death is what Nixon says has motivated her to call for an expanded Justice Department probe. “These people [in jail] haven’t even been convicted, and a lot of them are awaiting trial. If they have medical issues, they need to get care. This is about humanity.”
Nixon says since her and Davis sent their letter last month, she has received calls from people in other counties describing similar problems with care for inmates in their areas.
“I feel folks don’t know where to go if they’ve had problems in the jail or prison system,” Nixon said, “because I believe if they knew where to go, we’d learn all sorts of disturbing things.”
The Justice Department letters to Davis and Nixon said it had “referred your request for investigation to the proper component for review. The Department carefully reviews any allegation.”
Charlie McGee covers poverty and the safety net for The Tributary. He’s also a Report for America corps member with The GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and worldwide. McGee may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.