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 signed into law by the governor.
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.
“Inmates who are extremely sick and frail do not pose a threat to public safety, and it costs our hardworking taxpayers a tremendous amount of money to care for them in prison,” LaFave said. “It’s far more cost effective to take care of someone who needs special medical attention – or can’t perform everyday functions such as bathing or eating – inside a medical facility than in a prison.”
LaFave said the new law permits 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 is to qualify inmates transferred to health care facilities for Medicaid, which would translate to a net savings for Michigan taxpayers.
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.
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.
House Bills 4129-32 are now Public Acts 13-16 of 2019.