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National accrediting agency put Duval jail on probation over inmate medical care

 The Duval County Jail.
WJCT
The Duval County Jail recently ended its contract for inmate care with Armor and signed a five-year, $110 million contract with NaphCare.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care warned the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office three months ago that the jail's medical care was deficient.

A key national accrediting agency warned the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office three months ago that its medical care was deficient and placed its jail on probation in April.

Records on the probation were obtained and reported by WJCT partner The Tributary, a nonprofit, independent newsroom covering Northeast Florida.

In an email to former Corrections Director Tammy Morris on May 10, a National Commission on Correctional Health Care representative wrote that the organization reviewed the accreditation status of the facility and voted to place it on probation.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office confirmed Wednesday that the jail is still under probation.

The commission is an accreditation agency that ensures jails are operating their medical services within constitutionally accepted standards. The Tributary first contacted the commission about Jacksonville’s jail conditions on March 10. The agency has not responded to a request for comments.

The group said in the email that it will survey the jail again before Aug. 31 to make sure corrective action has been taken and improvement efforts are underway. The sheriff’s office said the next evaluation is scheduled for the last quarter of 2023. The email did not say why the group put the jail on probation.

“Although the facility remains accredited, probation is a very serious matter,” the email read. “Failure to appropriately respond to the deficient areas in a timely manner could result in your facility’s loss of accreditation.”

The same day, Tamara Taylor, regional vice president for Armor Correctional Services — the company that ran the jail’s health care — wrote in an email to Morris that Armor “already started corrective action on the deficient areas.”

Whether a jail is accredited can come up during any litigation and losing accreditation could put the city more at risk if sued.

Andrew Bonderud, the attorney representing the family of a man who died after he didn’t get his prescriptions while in the jail, pointed to issues at the policy-making level at the sheriff’s office.

The Tributary learned this past week that the sheriff’s office ended its contract with Armor and signed a five-year $110 million contract with another for-profit, private company called NaphCare. That contract takes effect Sept. 1.

“I don’t expect it’s something that can be turned around overnight,” Bonderud said. “But the sheriff needs to understand the severity and depth of the absolute dysfunction at the jail, and hopefully, he does keep tabs on this new provider because if he doesn’t we can all expect things to get worse.”

The Tributary reported in May on the death of Dexter Barry, a 54-year-old recent heart transplant who begged police for his anti-rejection medication. He died days after his release from the jail.

That reporting led to an internal review of Barry’s death and public conversations about Armor’s role at the jail.

The Tributary first asked Sheriff T.K. Waters about Armor and his jail health care plans in August, when he was a candidate for the office.

Since then, The Tributary has revealed that Armor hid, in violation of its contract and state law, its own criminal convictions related to medical treatment at another jail. Reporting also uncovered that deaths have tripled in the jail since health care became privatized in 2017.

Waters said on Tuesday that he did a deep dive on NaphCare and they came “highly recommended” by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The Tributary found that NaphCare has a reputation for poor treatment of inmates that largely mirrors Armor’s. Like Armor, NaphCare has been sued hundreds of times in federal court. One of those lawsuits ended in a $3 million settlement for the family of a man who died in a Virginia jail in 2015.

At a jail with NaphCare’s medical services last September, an Atlanta man was eaten alive by bed bugs.

This story is published through a partnership between WJCT News and The Tributary

Copyright 2023 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Nichole Manna - The Tributary