California May Study Disabled Inmate Care Costs

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California may review the high cost of taking care of disabled inmates. Exhibit A is the case of Steven Martinez, who the Los Angeles Times says lies in bed in a small, bare room, day after day, month after month. He can blink, speak, swallow and turn his head. Nurses must help him with everything else.

Convicted of rape and assault in 1998, he was sent to prison for the rest of his life. Two years ago, fellow inmates stabbed him in the neck, leaving him a quadriplegic. Martinez, 34, may be California’s most expensive inmate. His hospital cell in the high-security prison in Corcoran costs $730 a day–not counting medical procedures, drugs and his guards’ salaries.

If he lives another 30 years, meeting his basic needs could cost California $8 million or more.

Martinez is one of about 120 Calaifornia inmates who need help with functions of daily life. The state’s budget crisis is prompting questions about whether the expense of incarcerating them is justified when other programs are being cut.

The leader of the state Senate, Democrat John Burton of San Francisco, believes that convicts incapacitated by disease or disability belong in lower-cost settings, perhaps nursing centers with minimal security. “What are these guys going to do? Run you over with their wheelchairs?” Burton asked. “There has to be a better way to deal with them, a way that saves money without threatening public safety.”

Most states permit medical release of felons deemed unlikely to commit new crimes, but the California criteria are stiff: A convict must be terminally ill and within six months of death. Last year, 39 prisoners were considered for compassionate release and 12 were freed.


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