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June 14, 2009

Do prisoners get better health care than poor?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this notable op-ed piece from a local Oregon paper, which is headlined "State is wasting money on death-row health care."  Here are excerpts:

On Sept. 18, 1995, Horacio Alberto Reyes-Camarena repeatedly stabbed two sisters, 18 and 30, whom he had met at a farm labor camp. The younger bled to death but the elder survived with 17 stab wounds to testify against him. In 1996, Reyes-Camarena was sentenced to Oregon's death row. He was placed under protection of the state.

When it was discovered that his kidney was failing, the state covered the costs for his treatment, using $121,000 taxpayers' dollars per year to pay for dialysis.  On top of that, his prison doctor stated that he deserved a kidney transplant, a procedure that would cost the state an additional $100,000, so that he would be able to stay healthy until the date of his execution.

One would hope that this was a rare case, but unfortunately, Horacio is one of many death row inmates who receive premier treatment, cutting in front of thousands of others who are waiting for the same procedures. I think it is a little ironic that this murderer receive the transplant while 17 innocent people die every day in the U.S. waiting for this surgery, and the state of Oregon is paying for it. As an Oregonian who has watched my elementary school and 2 others close while our high school was forced to cut days, classes, and teachers due to lack of state funding, I find it not only irresponsible but negligible for the state to be paying for such outrageous procedures to keep alive a man who has been sentenced sentenced to die.

Oregon is not alone in this excessive spending, however. Last year, California's overseer of the state's prison health care system petitioned for $8 billion over the next five years to build seven advanced medical facilities for inmates throughout the state. These facilities will provide premium health care for the inmates, many of whom have had horrible health problems due to drug use, lack of hygiene or gang violence previous to their admittance to the penitentiary.

Is it right for the government to be spending billions of dollars providing better health care for those that have broken the rules then for the thousands of innocents who can't afford insurance? No!...

The government should take this wasted spending and allocate it to the areas that could lower the number of inmates convicted in the first place: the public school system.  It is proven that higher education directly relates to lower crime rates and incarceration.  With Oregon's education system ranked last among the 50 states in many areas, and being one of only five states to receive a "D" overall grade according to last year's report by Education Week's Quality Counts, it is an understatement to say that much needs to be done.

It is not acceptable that criminals who have committed crimes worthy of the death penalty receive transplants, complex surgeries and advanced treatments ahead of others and at the cost of the state while our schools are ranked as some of the lowest in the nation.  Why should Reyes-Camarena and others like him receive $121,000-per-year treatments while the Oregon House and Senate are forced to cut $116 million for the coming school year?

Take this money that ensures the premium health of soon-to-be-executed inmates and reallocate it to programs that boost overall education, driving down the crime rate and in turn reducing the number of crimes punishable by death.  The solution is simple. What is holding us back?

June 14, 2009 at 12:23 PM | Permalink


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» Transplants on Death Row from Crime and Consequences Blog
The Medford, Oregon, Mail Tribune has this op-ed by David Delgado, a sophomore at Stanford. Delgado is outraged by the case of Horacio Reyes-Camarena, who was sentenced to death for stabbing two sisters he met at a farm labor camp,... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 15, 2009 4:37:15 PM


123D. The health care costs of the deceased are quite moderate.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 14, 2009 12:37:44 PM

The state would have been obligated to provide medical treatment for this convict whether he'd been given the DP or LWOP.

Plus, of course, all this angst about cost is complete baloney. There has to my knowledge never been a society having less ACTUAL concern for cost than the one we are living in right now. We simply borrow against the future and spend the trillions thus obtained on federal and state "stimulus," bailouts, corporate and bank take-overs, and everything else under the sun.

The costs of imprisonment are microscopic compared to what really is driving the deficit train, namely, runaway entitlement spending. If there is to be any genuine progress toward public frugality, that is where it will have to start.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2009 2:04:42 PM

Bill - You're beginning to sound like a broken record. We get your point of view already.

Posted by: lawyer | Jun 14, 2009 2:21:27 PM

Yes, some prisoners are provided with expensive medical treatment. No, prisoners in general are not provided with "premier" medical care. That proposition is absurd to anyone who has interacted more than superficially with a jail or prison in the United States.

I am also curious if it is possible to estimate with any accuracy how often this kind of severe, expensive intervention (dialysis, surgery, treatment for an abscess, protruding hernia, etc.) can be avoided through preventative treatment (screenings, low-sodium diets, etc.), and whether jails/prisons are fully invested in such low-cost, up-front triage.

Considering that preventative health care likely costs pennies on the dollar compared to late-stage interventions, it would seem that any rational state would be investing heavily in such care, at least for lifers.

Posted by: Slightly misleading | Jun 14, 2009 4:08:47 PM

The writer of this piece has quite obviously never had any experience (even indirect) with prison health care. The quality of health care for prisoners is abysmal, even for non-violent prisoners serving short sentences. The state should spend dramatically more money, not less, on prisoner health care. If it can't pay the costs of its incarceration policy, then it must stop incarcerating people. We're not uncivilized brutes (well, not all of us).

Bill, I thought you were anti-crime? Why do you propose increasing crime by reducing the welfare state even below its currently shamefully small state? It seems an odd position for somebody who claims to oppose crime to take.

Posted by: DK | Jun 14, 2009 4:43:56 PM

lawyer -- I'm not nearly the broken record these numerous pieces bemoaning the costs of imprisonment have become. I guess I'll stop answering when the articles inviting an answer stop appearing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2009 5:52:22 PM

DK --

"Why do you propose increasing crime by reducing the welfare state even below its currently shamefully small state? It seems an odd position for somebody who claims to oppose crime to take."

I propose reducing the welfare state because (1) I expect adults to be responsible for their own lives and pay their own bills, (2) the welfare state is unaffordable (and, as a factual matter, unpaid for) even in its present bloated condition, not to mention what it will become when the bills for President Obama's massive borrowing come due, (3) it undergirds one of the principal culprits for crime, to wit, the culture of grievance, victimization and entitlement that erodes honest self-reliance and other barriers to bad behavior, and (4) it has created a government wildly more expensive, powerful and intrusive than the Founders ever envisioned.

FYI, the greatest increase in crime in the last half century coincided exactly with the modern explosion of the welfare state from the mid-1960's to the end of the 1970's. In that time of government "compassion," not to mention ratcheted up spending, the murder rate doubled and the rate of violent crime was right there with it. This is less than spectacular evidence that a bigger welfare state reduces crime.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2009 6:23:51 PM

Bill: You do not have to answer any lawyer, unless it is to satisfy yourself. All are cult criminals. The sole reply to the lawyer is the Lawyer Control Act, excluding anyone who has passed 1L from all benches, all legislative seats, and all responsible policy positions in the Executive. We exclude the felon. Exclude the cult criminal.

You are correct. The lawyer destroyed the black family, exploding the rate of bastardy in the 1970's with its crime rate nearly double that of today, thanks to the lawyer cult criminal. The feminist lawyer, and its male running dogs, made child support a federal matter in the 1990's. One has to be an idiot to get married, today, thanks to the lawyer. Expect all social pathologies devastating black families to visit all white families, now.

P.S. Cult criminality has three prongs.

1) Supernatural core doctrines used by a hierarchy of about 15,000 people to maintain arbitrary and invalid tyranny by its running the three branches of government. Elected officials are figureheads, making 1% of decision if we are lucky. These represent an insurrection against the Constitution. A strong executive will arrest the lot, give them each an hour's fair trial, and summarily execute them.

2) Law school indoctrination methods to make modern students accept fictional core supernatural core doctrines. They cover up the violation of the Establishment Clause since all originated in the Church of the High Middle Ages. To its credit, the Medieval Church never claimed man could read minds, or predict the future. It said, God could, in accordance with its faith. Like the modern Inquisitors, the Church maintained orthodoxy at the point of a sword. The law school indoctrination is a massive intentional tort by the class of the hierarchy against the class of all law students. The right lawyer may be able to reach endowments totaling 9-10 figures.

3) Draconian discipline of the cult criminals. The lawyer is doubly oppressed as the public. The judge triply so. The State Supreme Court maintaining discipline write the Rules of Conduct, a legislative act. It employs a disciplinary counsel. Prosecution is an executive function. This self-styled phony prosecutor practices before the judges who employed him. He gets his pay from the judges. The violation of the separation of powers leaves one breathless. No one has challenged this mass breach of the constitutions of most states.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 14, 2009 7:27:20 PM

his prison doctor stated that he deserved a kidney transplant

How did they determine that?

Posted by: | Jun 14, 2009 8:53:11 PM

How deliciously sweet. S. Clause is riding shotgun with the "Lawn Order" recording.

Posted by: Mark#1 | Jun 14, 2009 11:29:16 PM

Mark: If you are a lawyer, what do you think of my Separation of Powers analysis of the Disciplinary Counsel system?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 15, 2009 7:14:38 AM

Blank: There is lawyer rent seeking. There is doctor rent seeking. It may be many times bigger. I am not discussing that, however.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 15, 2009 7:16:33 AM

The Austrians might say the inmate deserved a kidney because America signed an international covenant declaring: "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."

Surely allowing an inmate to die in his cell of shriveling kidneys would violate the covenant.

Bill, are you also upset about the $700 billion that goes to warfare-state recipients each year...or however much it costs to keep empire bases in god-knows-how-many countries around the globe?

Posted by: John K | Jun 15, 2009 11:43:57 AM

Regarding the op-ed post author in Oregon.
The folks in the county which surrounded the Confederate Prison at Andersonville, said the same things as do the folks in the article above. Andersonville! Most of you blog readers do not even know what that place was all about. It is our own Buchenwald. Maybe most of you do not know about Buchenwald. The photos say it all-- re Andersonville and Buchenwald. America has a past of murder, killing, deprivationss, that are close to those of Nazi Germany.

The Nuremburg judgments are that if we im-prison folks, we must PROVIDE. This means medical care, feed them, and keep them alive.

The question posited by the author is perhaps right on point. Why do folks whom we want to kill, deserve any kind of care, treatment, food?

I would recommend, to those folks who agree with the author, take a review of the decions in the Nuremburg trials. That is our jurisprudence. That is why folks who want to dismiss the needs of the dying prisoners at Andersonville or Buchenwald, need to consult their own souls. Consult your souls if you think that condemned folks need no care, no medical treatment, no food, no attention. We are going to kill them. Why feed them, give them medical care? Why let them talk to their kin, allow them to seek solice in thier church? After all, we are going to kill them.

Thats what the Nazis said. That defense did not work at Nuremberg. What would St. Peter say?
I would like to see that Oregaon Newspaper editorialist in the dock at Nuremburg, or before St. Peter, or St. Peter's stand-in--he always has a stand-in. Woe to the offenders. Or, woe to Oregon. After all, that where this offense is happening.

Posted by: mpb | Jun 15, 2009 3:11:29 PM

"Consult your souls if you think that condemned folks need no care, no medical treatment, no food, no attention."

If this 1996 judgment had been executed in 2001 -- plenty of time for a full, fair review -- no further attention would have been required.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jun 15, 2009 4:35:14 PM

A simple Google search shows that the kidney-transplant controversy occurred, and was resolved, in 2003. (The inmate was found ineligible for a transplant.) The op-ed somewhat misleadingly implies that the controversy is ongoing.

So rest easier, Kent: the guy might already be dead.

Posted by: CN | Jun 15, 2009 4:58:02 PM

CN's "rest easier" remark has no apparent relation to my comment, which was that the costs the writer is complaining about would have ceased in 2001 if the case had been reviewed and the judgment executed in a reasonable time.

FWIW, the perpetrator is listed in the most recent Death Row USA.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jun 15, 2009 10:46:48 PM

"Deutschland, deutschland, uber alles" That would be an appropriate song for Oregon to adopt.

I agree with B.O. above. Too much welfare. I believe that socialized jobs creates a soft society. Why do we need all those government workers like prosecutors spending years and years in federal court going after small dope dealers and chizlers? And prison guards and social workers. Lets be libertarian and cut it all out. Deliver some mail, clean the streets, pick up the trash and that is it. End all of those jobs for grifters. They can make it in Vegas. You are so right B.O. Thanks for opening up my mind to this.

Posted by: mpb | Jun 16, 2009 2:46:27 AM

mpb -- Public defenders are likewise government employees, but you forgot to put them on your Bad List. Now how did that happen?

"You are so right B.O. Thanks for opening up my mind to this."

There are a great many things in this world beyond my capacities, and opening your mind is one of them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 16, 2009 5:02:38 AM

There should be an improvement in the health care of the poor.

Posted by: Simon Dunbar | Jun 22, 2009 1:35:56 AM

We unnecessarily incarcerate 40 Xs more people than in any civilized country.

If we provided mental health care, including treating addictions as illnesses instead of crimes (decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs); if we pay for ending poverty, joblessness, and lack of health care, as well as start educating people in our country (our high school education is equivalent to grammar school education in many other countries), use restorative justice instead of punishment by warehousing without rehabilitation, then the number of inmates would decrease by more than half and we would have plenty of money to provide basic health care to all inmates.

Our experiment in being "tough on crime" while eliminating rehabilitation and ignoring our country's major problems of poor education, poverty, joblessness, and profiteering in medical care (by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, high tech equipment companies and excessively psid medical specialists) is an absolute and utter failure. We need a new plan.

Posted by: Dr Linda Shelton | Aug 26, 2009 1:04:14 AM

Rather than asking whether or not prisoners should receive 'better' healthcare than law-abiding citizens...
How about we start asking why law-abiding citizens DO NOT receive the healthcare they/we deserve???
That prisoners do receive the healthcare, on YOUR/OUR tax dollars..well, actually, it's called Human Rights.
What should infuriate everyone on this forum is why regular people do not automatically have this same right.

For example. I've worked all my life, I've paid all my taxes, then I get laid off. My health benefits are no longer there. Say, I get cancer.
Under the current state of affairs, you'd think I'd have to commit a crime to get adequate treatment.
Don't focus on the prisoners who do get it - focus on why regular folks don't get the same!!

Posted by: Citizen-want-to-be | Dec 31, 2009 11:30:27 PM

I am worried about my brother. His sentence is for two years for carrying a weapon. He lived in a bad area because that is all he could afford and was robbed and beaten many times. He has been incarcerated since 3/8/2010 and has many health problems. He has not been given any of his medication. I have sent three emails voicing my concerns. I also called the quality assurance department and left a message without any type of response whatsoever. I will hold the MDOC responsible if anything happens to him. He should not even be there.I don't know what else to do to get him the help he needs. He is afraid to speak up.

Posted by: Janice | Apr 9, 2010 7:34:26 PM

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