Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Pro Publica tells the prisoners' health care story

Some part of the 18% of GNP spent by the United States on health care is the medical care given to prisoners in state and federal correctional facilities.

A recent article by Christie Thompson at Pro Publica provides a summary of the problem:

And as the elderly population in prison grows, so do their medical bills. Housing an inmate in a prison medical center costs taxpayers nearly $60,000 a year — more than twice the cost of housing an inmate in general population.

I'm not sure if the medical cost accounting includes this, but there is also the additional cost of requiring prisoner patients in hospitals to be accompanied by armed guards when they leave the prisoner medical center for tertiary care in a public hospital.

Thompson's story also shows that one of the unspoken tragedies in American life occurs when a prisoner is terminally ill and represents no risk to society, but is kept as part of the correctional system.

Federal inmate and lawyer Lynne Stewart tried to seek compassionate release from a federal judge after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Stewart is serving a 10-year sentence in a Texas federal prison for serving as a messenger for her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of terrorism charges in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Prison officials denied Stewart’s request in June, saying she hadn’t proven she had less than 18 months to live. So Stewart took her case to court, hoping a federal judge would overrule the prisons’ decision.

“There is no doubt that Lynne is dying,” said Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter. “She can’t breath, the cancer has taken over both lungs.” Stewart “sounds like she’s running” when they talk on the phone, Poynter said.

The judge wrote that he had no choice but to deny her request. “The court would give prompt and sympathetic consideration to any motion for compassionate release,” the judge wrote, “but it is for the [Bureau of Prisons] to make that motion in the first place.”

Thompson's article brings to light the bureacratic hassles that end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars and deny compassion to those who need it.  This is another excellent exposition of an important issue by Pro Publica.

1 comment:

Brad F said...

My brain and soul tells me compassionate release a worthwhile action.

However, my ethical compass got in the way.

The theme of the initiative seems to be reduction of the prison population and costs.

The choice of terminally ill prisoners seems agreeable (kind of like the DREAM act for immigration)...if we need to choose a subgroup.

But do we conflate two goals: charity vs efficiency. Which one? If the former, state up front. If the latter, do we forgo "debt to society" to achieve a difft end.