State Rep. Beau LaFave’s plan to reduce the amount of public tax dollars spent on prison health care while continuing to protect public safety has been approved by the Michigan House with overwhelming bipartisan support.
LaFave, of Iron Mountain, said chronically ill and aging prisoners often have health care costs several times higher than the average inmate. It’s a growing concern in
Michigan, where nearly one in four inmates is 50 or older with the average age continuing to rise. Health care already takes up 15 percent of the prison system’s budget, costing taxpayers roughly $300 million.
“It’s extremely expensive to care for inmates who are frail or chronically sick, and they require a lot of time and attention from prison staff,” LaFave said. “We will use public tax dollars more efficiently by reforming the way we care for medically frail inmates.”
LaFave said the plan would permit some inmates with severe and chronic physical or mental disabilities to complete their sentences at a medical facility rather than inside a prison, if approved by a parole board. It does not allow early release of inmates.
The goal would be to qualify inmates transferred to health care facilities for Medicaid, which would translate to a net savings for taxpayers.
An initial projection from the Department of Corrections estimates roughly 20 to 40 prisoners could potentially be eligible for the program. The number could grow over time as the prison population ages.
Only inmates classified by professionals as not posing a risk to public safety would be allowed to relocate. Prosecutors and victims could appeal decisions, and inmates convicted of first-degree murder, criminal sexual conduct in the first degree or any other crime resulting in a life sentence would automatically be ineligible for the program – meaning they stay behind bars.
“This plan is narrowly tailored to include only extremely ill inmates – people who can’t perform basic tasks like eating or grooming without assistance,” LaFave said. “They would be required to complete their sentences at a nursing home or other medical facility.”
House Bills 4129-32 now move to the Senate for consideration.