A lot of politicians who pound the table demanding tax cuts as solutions for all economic woes are the same ones who want ever-longer prison sentences and go out of their way to appear "tough on crime." I wonder how they can look at this result and justify both positions? Reported KHOU:
The attention an 89-year-old convicted killer gets could make some people jealous.
11 News' Ron Trevino asked Dr. Bobby Vincent at the UTMB-Estelle Prison Unit about the attention some elderly inmates receive. "Is it safe to say a lot of the patients in this unit get better care than a lot of people the same age, out in the free world?"
"Absolutely, absolutely, without a doubt," Dr. Vincent replied.
UTMB handles the medical care at the facility for the most expensive of Texas prisoners.
Thanks to modern medicine, prisoners, like the rest of us, are living longer lives. Couple that with longer sentences and elderly inmates are the fastest growing segment of the prison population.
The report described the medical wing of the Estelle Unit where elderly prisoners are housed as the "closest thing the Texas prison system has to a nursing home." Well, have you ever priced a nursing home? We're talking big bucks. I'll bet they're more expensive with guards and surveillance. And who is still serving their prison sentences at 80+ years old? Those who've committed the most heinous crimes, no doubt -- murderers, rapists -- folks who did something terrible, but in many cases likely aren't a threat any longer, imprisoned as much by their infirmities as by concrete walls.
Now that Texas has passed a Life Without Parole option for capital offenses, we'll see a new class of offenders spending their twilight years on the taxpayers' dime, some of whom entered prison as teenagers. When the state chooses to incarcerate someone, it takes on a constitutional obligation to provide for their healthcare. Elderly inmates incur huge medical bills; in the end, I doubt a cost-benefit analysis could justify the expense in terms of increased public safety. Meanwhile,
Healthcare costs keep going up in the prison system. From dialysis to drugs, it's putting more of a strain on an already maxed-out state budget.If these inmates seem costly now, the expense increases with each passing day. "The general population in Texas prisons is growing annually at around 1 percent, while the over-55 population is growing at about 11 percent each year," KHOU reported. YOW! The most expensive portion of the prison population is expanding 11 times faster than the prison system as a whole! Eleven. Times. Faster.
"I think oftentimes people forget that we've got granpas and grandpas in jail here, spending the rest of their life with us," said Dr. Owen Murray, UTMB Correctional Managed Care. "And that is very expensive care, as the free world folks know. And we're assuming that burden, I think, as a state."
Governing is about making choices, especially when Texas' governor and legislative leadership have taken new taxes off the table, and even proposed lowering them. So we must choose: Would Texas rather pay to incarcerate an 89-year old, or use that money to educate 10 more students? Would we rather expand the nursing home wing in the prison system or pay for traffic improvements in Houston and Dallas? What's more important? There's a point after which tough on crime becomes too tough on taxpayers.
RELATED: See posts from Doc Berman on the rising cost of elderly inmates.