U.S Prison health care has recently been in the news and in the courts. A particular issue is whether prisons should contract out for health care. Contracting out has been growing over the past few decades. The stated motivation for this change ranges from a desire to improve the prison health care system, sometimes in response to a court mandate, to a desire to reduce costs. This study is a first attempt to quantify the impact of this change on inmate health. As morbidity measures are not readily obtainable, we focus on mortality. More specifically, we use a panel of state prisons from 1979-1990 and a fixed effects Poisson model to estimate the change in mortality associated with increases in the percentage of medical personnel employed under contract. In contrast to the first stated aim of contracting, we find that a 20 percent increase in percentage of medical personnel employed under contract increases mortality by 2 percent.