Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 11:59 pm | A Few Clouds 49º


Diane Dimond: Do Prisoners Deserve Free Medical Treatment?

Health care has become a luxury for many Americans but remains a perk for convicts

They are charged with breaking laws or victimizing fellow citizens. We respond by making sure they get a lawyer — often on the taxpayers’ dime. If they plead “not guilty,” we stage expensive trials so they can provide evidence to a judge or jury. If convicted, they are imprisoned.

So, after all that we do, we also have an obligation to provide prisoners with any and all medicines they might need to keep them healthy?

While so many Americans are struggling to meet health insurance and prescription costs, services for prisoners constantly increase. And make no mistake about it: America has so many incarcerated people that we’re spending boatloads of money on convicts’ medical care. Their services can’t be cut. But health-care programs for the general public have been cut back time and time again.

Let’s take the state of Ohio as a general example of what it means to maintain the health of convicts. The Ohio prison system has about 51,000 prisoners, and it spends nearly $223 million a year for their medical care. About $28 million of the Ohio total is spent on inmates’ prescriptions.

In Oregon, the latest annual figures show that it took $100 million to take care of 14,000 prisoners. That’s seven times more than the state spends on education.

Texas, like every other state, has seen a spike in the number of elderly inmates who often require even more expensive medical treatments. That phenomenon — on top of Texas’ regular medical care costs for prisoners — caused expenses to balloon to a staggering $545 million last fiscal year. This, at a time when other crucial state programs are facing mandatory budget cuts.

Every year, the price of tending to old and dying prisoners skyrockets. Realize these inmates must often be transported to hospitals or nursing homes, where they are treated with the latest lifesaving methods and, yes, even though they are incapacitated from their illnesses, the law says they must be provided with security guards around the clock.

Wrap your head around this set of facts, if you can: In California, a state drowning in red ink, the prison system recently identified 21 inmates whose annual health-care bill is just less than $2 million — each. There are another 1,300 guests of the California penal system who require medical attention amounting to $100,000 apiece.

In the face of those cold, hard facts, California adopted a bill last year granting medical paroles so the sickest inmates could get out of prison and into federally funded health-care facilities. That, of course, only shifted the burden on paper — to the federal from the state level.

So, armed with these staggering statistics, ask yourself: Do prisoners deserve all this free health care, when so many of us struggle to pay for health insurance or, sadly, go without? The answer in a humane society is yes.

But yes to a point.

Are you sitting down? If not, please do. In Massachusetts, a cross-dressing inmate who murdered his wife in 1990 has been suing the state for health-care costs related to his desire to have a sex-change operation. Robert Kosilek (who has changed his name to Michelle) has already received hormone injections, electrolysis hair removal and, most recently, a mammogram — all at taxpayer expense. Kosilek remains housed in an all-male prison, and her standard issue prison wardrobe has been augmented with several bras and “some makeup,” according to corrections officials.

Still, after a costly 10-year court battle, Kosilek says these steps have not been enough to ease her depression, and the fight continues for the state to pay for a full-on gender reassignment surgery. The case is still pending in Massachusetts’ U.S. District Court.

Earlier this year in upstate New York, 55-year-old Kenneth Pike, convicted of raping a 12-year-old family member and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, desperately needed a heart transplant. He had already undergone triple heart-bypass surgery and had a pacemaker implanted while incarcerated.

After the media reported that the public might have to pay for an $800,000 transplant surgery for a convicted child predator, the outcry was immediate. The Department of Corrections explained that it was “constitutionally obligated to provide health-care services to inmates,” and Pike’s family argued he should be treated like any other patient in need.

In the end, the controversy was so red hot that Pike declined the surgery. At last report, he is still alive.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners were entitled to the same medical and dental treatment as everyone else in their communities. Since then, countless state courts have upheld that ruling and repeated that prisons withholding treatment may be held liable for violating the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Well, I know lots of folks in my community who can’t afford to go to doctor when they feel ill, and they may go to the dentist only when they have a raging toothache.

Whether our politicians want to admit it, health care has become a luxury for millions of Americans. Excluding, of course, those convicted of a crime.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Click here for more information. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.