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November 13, 2009

Documenting the health-care costs of long sentences

I often enjoy noting the fact that prisoners do get one benefit that many non-prisoners might envy: free health care.  But, as this new CNN feature highlights, the health care received free by prisoners is not free to taxpayers, and the costs of health-care for prisoners continues to rise as more and more prisoners are serving longer and longer sentences.  the CNN piece is headlined "Prison health-care costs rise as inmates grow older and sicker," and here are excerpts:

As health care sparks debate across the nation, the prison community faces its own battle against rising medical costs. The elderly constitute the fastest-growing sector of the inmate population, experts say.  It is a group that needs more frequent and costlier treatment, which states are required to provide under the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

An analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data found that the male prison population over age 55 ballooned by 82 percent in eight years, from 48,800 inmates in 1999 to 89,900 in 2007.  The definition of "elderly" varies by state.  The National Corrections Institute, a prison research organization, calls inmates over 55 elderly, and some states place inmates over 50 in that category. An inmate's body ages faster than the body of someone not in prison.

Georgia, one of the 10 largest prison systems in the country, spends about $8,500 on medical costs for inmates over 65, compared with about an average of $950 for those who are younger, corrections officials say.  Across the county, inmate medical care costs about $3 billion a year....

In the last few decades, a growing number of prisons have improved their quality of medical care, says Edward Harrison, president of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, an accreditation organization based in Chicago, Illinois.

Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, says investigations revealed that inmates were often denied access to certified doctors in the 1970s.  In some instances, inmates were providing medical and dental care to one another.  There continues to be lawsuits filed against prisons and jails for providing poor medical care, she says, but overall, the care has vastly improved.

Some states, such as Virginia and Pennsylvania, have built geriatric prison facilities that resemble mini-hospitals, equipped with medical devices and oxygen tanks.  Prisons are being licensed as acute-care settings with a crew of registered nurses, correctional health experts say.

Placing elderly prisoners into separate facilities or wings can help the state consolidate costs. Nearly 75 hospice programs exist in prisons -- up from less than 10 a decade ago, says Carol McAdoo of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.  "I would argue that the health care that is rendered behind bars is better than what is received in the general population," says CEO Rich Hallworth of Prison Health Services, a private medical corrections company in Tennessee that serves 172 jails and prisons around the country.

To ease budget woes in California, one bill up for debate would allow nonviolent elderly prisoners to be released into hospice care or monitored with ankle bracelets.  In the past few years, Georgia officials say, the state has released more frail and dying inmates on medical reprieve than ever before.  Other states, including New York and Virginia, have also allowed early release of ailing elderly inmates.

But critics, including victims' advocacy groups, have scrutinized this policy.  Will Marling, executive director of the National Organization for Victims Assistance in Virginia, said most victims believe offenders will strike again after they are released.  "If a person is sentenced to life, we know they are naturally going to get old," Marling said.  "A life sentence should mean life."

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November 13, 2009 at 05:29 PM | Permalink


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Well, we know one guy who isn't going to grow old in jail: John Allen Muhammed.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 13, 2009 5:42:00 PM

Texas spends about half a billion per year on prison inmate health care, and older offenders are responsible for much of the growth in costs, for sure. The other notable source of expense are HIV+ patients, who account for about half the Texas prison pharmacy budget.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 13, 2009 6:07:05 PM

HIV positive patients should be entitled to palliative care, only.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 13, 2009 6:17:16 PM

Federalist, that's even more expensive for long-timers, for whom the state must pay when the disease worsens. It may satisfy your punitive sensibility (thought probably not) but what you suggest would actually be more costly to taxpayers than providing preventive care.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 13, 2009 6:57:22 PM

I have worked in this industry for 7 years and I know how it is done. This can be more simplied if you could just get someone to listening. Now is the time to do that. Yes what has been said is true to the fact. However, the cost is rising because of duplication of efforts. The federal gov is paying 3 time to process those claims. Being that the contractor is reimbursing 15% above charges and the clearinghouse audits the claim for a fee and the taxpayers pay the bill.

Posted by: Audrey Gardner | Nov 13, 2009 9:26:27 PM

Execute them all by applying drug patches to their bodies. Then apply some patches to lawyers. Problem solved.

Posted by: IdiocracyClaus | Nov 14, 2009 12:49:33 AM

IC: You beat me to it. Thank you. Very good. But common sense has no place in a lawyer blog.

In the future, close the proposal with, To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 14, 2009 1:00:48 AM

Why don't you guys move to the Middle East and join the Taliban instead of bringing the Taliban here?

For those who think prison health care is great.

Posted by: George | Nov 14, 2009 9:14:58 AM

The American lawyer runs a tighter ship than the Taliban. Try saying a joke at work. You will be crushed. PC is the Taliban at home. Also the Taliban beats you for some infraction. Then they leave you alone. They do not consume 1000's of hours and assets as the lawyer does.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 14, 2009 9:28:30 AM

The taxpayers would wind up paying whether this care is provided in prison or not. This will be even more true if the giganitic new health care entitlement now under consideration is passed, but with or without it, Medicare and Medicaid already pay by far the lion's share.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 15, 2009 9:11:44 PM

there is a lot of things that the tax payers don't
know about the texas department of corrections.
tax payers are treated as though they are in
prison to. I'am a x-offender to. so there's a lot
more going on. you would be surprised!!!!!!

Posted by: charles Goodwin | Dec 1, 2009 3:43:12 PM

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