'I'm gonna die in here': America's broken jail healthcare system

Matthew Loflin was desperate for help.

In this jailhouse call, Loflin tells his father he's been begging to see a doctor during his seven weeks at the Chatham County Detention Center in Savannah, Georgia.

"Are you still throwing up blood? Yeah."

And in his last call ever with his mother, Loflin breaks down.

"I'm gonna die in here."

It was early in 2014. Loflin was being held on drug possession charges.

The 32-year-old had been passing out and struggling to breathe for months.

Former jail nurse Betty Riner spoke to Reuters about her career, but due to restrictions linked to litigation, she declined to discuss what she witnessed while working at Savannah's jail.

According to court records, Riner knew Loflin needed help. She and the jail doctor requested he be taken to the hospital.

His symptoms pointed to congestive heart failure.

But according to court records a senior manager at her employer Corizon Health, the company contracted to provide medical and mental health services at the jail, opposed a hospital visit.

Both Riner and the doctor said it came down to money.

Corizon denied that costs influenced medical decisions. The company says quality care is a priority and it benefits when inmates are healthy.

"These people that need you are sometimes they're neglected, they're forgotten, they're alone."

Loflin's death reveals the hidden cost of privatized inmate healthcare in the U.S. - a multi-billion dollar industry.

Corizon lost its contract with the jail after twelve inmates died over four and a half years.

The deaths that happened under the company's watch are tied to a national trend.

As more jails turn to private companies to provide inmate healthcare, more people are dying.

A Reuters investigation found from 2016 to 2018, jails that contracted with one of the five leading correctional healthcare companies had higher inmate deaths rates on average than those managed by government agencies.

Corizon's Chief Executive James Hyman said death rates alone are not a valid indicator of "the quality of performance."

Reuters spent a year corroborating the allegations against the jail and Corizon and uncovered unsettling details. Costly prescription medications went missing. Gravely ill patients were denied admission to hospitals. And mentally ill inmates were left untreated. The lapses are a dramatic illustration of the problems vexing America's 3,000 local jails.

Thousands of incarcerated people, many not yet convicted of a crime are receiving substandard healthcare, often with little regulatory oversight.

Attorney Will Claiborne represented Loflin's family in a lawsuit against the jail and Corizon.

"Pretrial detainees we know they bond out they plea out they get acquitted. They go into the prison system they leave. And so what that allows a healthcare company to do is play a game of chicken with their health. If the average detainee is at that jail for say 26 days all they have to do is make sure that individual does not die in those 26 days."

By the time Loflin was taken to the hospital, it was too late.

He suffered irreversible brain damage and was placed on life support.

Three weeks later, he died.