Two New Mexico newspapers and an advocacy group filed a public records lawsuit against Corizon Health on Tuesday, claiming that the prison health care contractor is performing a governmental function and should therefore be subject to the same transparency laws.
The Santa Fe New Mexican and Albuquerque Journal this summer asked Corizon to hand over settlement documents related to the medical care of prisoners in state correctional facilities. Corizon instead produced a table listing names of facilities and settlement amounts, and officials asked for a two-week extension to produce the actual documents with the names of prisoners.
The company later reversed its position, claiming it signed confidentiality agreements with the prisoners and therefore did not have any obligation to produce the records.
Not so, says Daniel Yohalem, one of the attorneys representing the three parties. He points to case law that says public disclosure should take precedence over voluntary confidentiality agreements. (Yohalem is also representing SFR in a separate public records lawsuit against the governor's office.)
"We believe it's important that the same standards of public accountability should apply when government outsources essential functions to private contractors," writes Albuquerque Journal editor Kent Walz in an email to SFR.
Corizon, which at one point provided medical services at 10 state facilities, was the subject of a Santa Fe New Mexican investigation revealing that since it took over prison care in 2007, scores of prisoners sued the contractor for medical neglect. The state announced in May that it would drop the company's contract.
UPDATE (8/17/2016): District Judge Raymond Ortiz ordered Corizon to release the settlement documents.