As California struggles to pay for social services for its poor residents, it spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on health care for a small group of sick inmates – in one case $1 million during a dying inmate’s final year, says a state audit reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The state spends billions of extra dollars on the longer sentences handed down under the state’s “three strikes” law in part because those inmates age in prison and need health care, said State Auditor Elaine Howle.
Roughly one-quarter of the $2.1 billion spent on prison health care in 2007-08 paid for specialty health care, or services beyond primary care. Specialty care is provided by contractors, and typically involves inpatient acute medical and surgical care. About 59,000 of the state’s 170,000 inmates received specialty care, with only 1,175 inmates accounting for a large portion of specialty health care spending: $185 million a year. “In contrast, a large majority of the population of inmates incarcerated during 2007 and 2008 did not have any specialty health care costs,” Howle said. State Sen. Mark Leno has introduced a bill with the backing of the federal receiver that would allow inmates, who do not pose a public safety threat and are incapacitated, to be “medically” paroled.