Friday, December 16, 2005

Elderly inmates health costs rising

In their old age, murderers and rapists in Texas prisons receive better healthcare services than your grandmother, KHOU-TV reported yesterday ("High cost of seniors serving time in Texas prisons," Dec. 15). Maybe your Mom can't afford nursing home care, but taxpayers finance similar facilities for convicted killers. What's wrong with this picture?

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.

"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."

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.

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.


Anonymous said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.

Anonymous said...

We need to return to Rissie Owens and ask why an 87 year old inmate at the geriatric unit got a 40 month set-off until he is 90 years old . He uses a walker to get around at snail's pace (highly dangerous). Then there is the 65 year old blind man with one leg who just got a 3 year set-off, both were personally interviewed by Ms. Owens.The perception of dangerousness seems to be quite different with BPP members than reality .There are 60 inmates in that unit , 50% should be released , the savings would be tremendous and the public would still be safe .

Anonymous said...

I am one of several people who assist recently released TDCJ inmates. We help them get on every federal, state, and local program and benefit package that they can qualify for. We want to cost Texas just as much money as possible, and our plan is working. This is our way of paying back the Texas prison and parole system---if anyone wants to actually work to change the parole and prison system this is the only way to do it---use these old guys to break the back of the Texas taxpayer, court, parole and prison system. This is something everybody can do on their own or with friends. These guys are easy to find at homeless shelters, Salvation Army, church groups, etc. Just work with local churches and change the entire system intelligently by bleeding it white. Nothing else will change the state that is run by people who hide in their walled estates---and best of all, this is totally legal. Texas sentenciong is ridiculous---change it by costing the state until they achieve bankruptcy.

Anonymous said...

If a person no longer poses a threat to society that person shouldn't be incarcerated. It is as simple as that. The state that goes beyond this premise deserves to be bankrupted by the healthcare costs of those who have been given ridiculous sentences. So suck it up Texas you can't have it both ways.

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