Over the past year, Texas taxpayers have spent $6,000 a day on medical treatments for one prisoner who has run up a $2 million bill, says the Houston Chronicle. Privacy laws prevent naming the inmate, who state officials say has been left incapacitated by a deadly, cell-eating virus. He tops the list of inmate patients expected to drive Texas’ prison health care costs $50 million into the red in the 2013 fiscal year. Advocates and legislators are pushing for more prisoners to receive medical paroles. It’s a fiercely emotional issue pitting victims against criminals, with the state caught in the middle, balancing fiscal responsibility with justice and fairness.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole has granted under 10 percent of referrals it received for medical paroles in the past five years. Only about 100 applicants are approved annually, while the number of referrals have nearly doubled to more than 1,800 this year. Violent offenders such as murderers are now eligible for medical parole if they are terminally ill or require long-term health care. The law is stricter on sex offenders, who must be in a “persistent vegetative state” to qualify. Those sentenced to death or life without parole are barred from consideration. “It’s nuts to keep hundreds of seriously debilitated inmates locked up when they no longer pose any real danger to the public,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the criminal justice committee. “They may have been really bad people, but they are no longer a threat to anybody now.”