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Budget Constraints Could Mean Critically Ill Inmates Being Released from Texas Prisons

Texas lawmakers latest proposal to cut the budget may benefit a number of individuals currently residing in Texas prisons. With a state budget shortage in excess of $27 billion, legislative budget makers are looking for ways to reduce government funding, including reducing the state prison budget. A current budgetary debate about prison funding is whether more “feeble inmates” should be released on medical parole, reports the Dallas Morning News.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, less than 18 percent (59 of 337) of Texas inmates eligible for medical release in 2009 were actually granted parole. At some point that same year 74 inmates died due to natural cases while still incarcerated. While the current system cites public safety concerns associated with the release of these inmates, Texas budget makers criticize the system for being too cautious. The costs associated with medical costs for geriatric and disabled inmates are high, and, according to budget makers, an unnecessary drain of taxpayer money.

When asked if moving these inmates into community-based homes would save money, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Chief Brad Livingston acknowledged that it would be a relief on prison budgets. According to the doctors overseeing inmate medical care, in 2009 inmates over 55 only made up 8 percent of the prison population, but accounted for 31 percent of the health care costs. Findings by the budgetary board estimate that medical care for one terminally ill inmate costs $10,000 each year.

By granting medical parole and releasing these feeble inmates from the prison system, medical costs would be covered by federal Medicaid funds. As it stands now, the state of Texas covers all medical costs while inmates remain incarcerated, regardless of age or Medicaid eligibility.

One of the debates surrounding these medical parole considerations is what eligibility means in terms of medical release. Current restrictions look only at inmates over the age of 65 who are expected to die in six months. The budget board proposes that this be changed to include inmates who are age 60 or older and expected to die within a year.

While medical parole is not available to violent offenders, relaxing the restrictions for medical release may still mean that hundreds of ill but currently incarcerated prisoners would be able to spend their last days living outside prison walls.

Source: Texas House budget writers urge prisons to release more feeble inmates