Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sex crimes and elderly prisoners' healthcare costs

With Jessica's Law (HB 8) being heard on the Texas House floor this morning, I found it ironic to listen to the House Corrections Committee seeking ways to avoid paying for the costly healthcare of elderly inmates at Monday's meeting.

HB 8 will boost sentences to a first degree felony (5-99 years) from a second degree felony (2-20 years) for certain offenses when the victim is under 14 years old, and remove options for parole for those offenders. But how much do you wanna bet the House debate over the bill this morning won't include much discussion about the costs of housing and treating elderly offenders? A "large number" of elderly offenders in Texas prisons already are sex offenders, a TDCJ official told the Corrections Committee.

But others in the Legislature still must think about how to pay for these offenders' healthcare. Discussing HB 763, which I'd blogged about earlier here, the House Corrections committee undertook a wide-ranging discussion about the growing expense of geriatric healthcare. (The committee hearing video is online here, and discussion of the bill begins at the 1:11:10 mark.)

"The population is becoming more aged," said Rep. Dutton. "Many of these are special needs inmates," he said, "who if you left the door open, the gate open, they'd be there the next morning."

Rep. Haggerty recalled that previous legislation made inmates eligible for medical release if a doctor said they would die within a year, Haggerty said, but "by the time we finished the paperwork, everybody died before we got them outta there." "It's a continuation of stupidity," Haggerty lamented.

The 9,700 TDCJ inmates over age 55 access healthcare services 3-4 times as often as younger inmates, the committee was told. For offenders who are elderly or truly disabled, it would be cheaper to move them into a non-secure facility so Medicaid would pay for their healthcare. In prison, the state of Texas must pay the full bill. Chairman Madden said there were two individual inmates at TDCJ whose healthcare cost taxpayers $1.5 million per year each.

At the end, they agreed that Dutton's bill might be used as a shell for reforms aimed at reducing high geriatric healthcare costs.

Sex offenders are not eligible for medical release, but even non-sex offenders are unlikely to be released for medical reasons. Last year TDCJ recommended that 451 offenders be released because their poor health generated high healthcare costs, but the Board of Pardons and Parole only approved 164 of them. The rest account for an extra-large proportion of TDCJ healthcare spending, and the committee was told those costs would only grow as the percentage of elderly inmates rose.

So what's the most important thing the state could do to reduce the number of geriatric inmates? Stop passing laws that result in decades long sentences! Duh.

If it wanted to, the Texas House could start that reversal this morning by at least amending HB 8 to allow for parole for geriatric sex offenders with special healthcare needs. It almost certainly won't happen, but be sure that won't stop complaints later about rising prisoner healthcare costs by the same politicians voting for HB 8.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that the cost of housing elderly inmates is playing a large role in crushing our economy.

I just wrote a blog on the subject. If you're interested in checking it out, use this link:

Are Geriatric Jailbirds Getting Better Health Care Than Mom?

http://www.gilbertguide.com/blog/2007/04/20/are-geriatric-jailbirds-getting-better-health-care-than-mom/


Enjoy!

Ami Icanberry

Slectro Shock for Assembly Line Justice said...

I hope these guys bankrupt Texas. My brother is serving a twenty year sentence for one count of sexual assault and has already served seven years. Every explicit picture he had of his college girlfriends and wife of some nine years were deemed photos of victims by the Dallas Court--the court never even made mention of the fact he had been married for almost ten years. His name is William Harrison and his TDCJ number is 864645.

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Anonymous said...

Okay...so where do all those early released (or released on time)elderly, with medical care needs, inmates go for medical care and housing as registered sex offenders?
And how is this care paid for???