According to the Austin Statesman editorial board (Jan. 19), "nearly 2,000 inmates died over a recent four-year span, the most in any state in the country - even California, with its larger prison population." Mike Ward supplied an overview piece in preparation for the meeting last week ("Texas medical neglect cases stir concern about prison healthcare," Jan. 16):
At nearly 500 deaths per year, that breaks down to about one annual mortality for every 350 prisoners or so.
From 2001 to 2005, federal statistics show, 1,933 convicts died in Texas prisons, more than in any other state including California, which had 1,672 deaths and has a larger prison system than Texas. California had 175,115 prisoners and Texas 172,889 as of June 30, 2006, according to the federal Bureau of Statistics.
Whitmire, D-Houston, has scheduled a Jan. 24 hearing of the Criminal Justice Committee to examine prison health care, which is provided by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and Texas Tech University. Both universities declined to comment Tuesday.
The point to make here isn't just to blame the UTMB, Texas Tech and the prison system for failing to provide adequate healthcare, though we know they do not. For taxpayers, though, each of those deaths represent an abnormally high set of medical costs leading to the prisoner's final demise. Even though prisoners with HIV/AIDS make up a small portion of the inmate population, for example, their prescriptions make up about 40% of TDCJ's pharmacy costs. The lifetime cost of treating an HIV positive prisoner easily heads into the range of six figures per person.
Just like in the free world, prevention and better front end healthcare leads to fewer overall costs. Every staph infection prevented, for example, saves thousands of dollars in unnecessary followup care.
One looming problem that will make prison health MUCH more expensive over the next decades: Elderly inmates tend to cost much more than younger ones, so super-long prison sentences inevitably set up taxpayers to foot those seniors' medical bills.
I'll be looking forward to hearing testimony at next week's meeting, but we've heard a lot about the problems before. The question becomes, are there solutions besides throwing massive amounts of new money at the system? That's all they could come up with in California, where court-ordered inmate health spending is now twice that in Texas, and it's the only solution I've ever heard besides living with the status quo until the court makes Texas do something. We'll see what Whitmire and the Lege come up with, though, for 2009.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Texas underspends on prison healthcare
- Elderly inmates health costs rising
- Thirty percent of Texas inmates former MHMR clients
- Faculty blog fears healthcare for TX prisoners gives UTMB a black eye
- UTMB should make telemedicine work better at Texas prisons before exporting it
- I guess if it's possible to have "phone sex" you can have "telepsychiatry"
- Why Texas per-inmate healthcare costs are (relatively) low and why it's an illusion
- Death sentence for stealing a Playstation: Texas prison healthcare problems not unusual
- Sex crimes and elderly prisoners' health costs
- Prison health is a budget buster
- Lack of accountability explains why counties dropping UTMB healthcare
- Healthcare poor for kids in TYC, committee told
- UTMB mental healthcare quality declining at TYC
- Harris County kids in TYC don't receive prescribed medications, treatment