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Texas Criminal Justice Spending Driven Largely by Elderly Inmates

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune
Members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee expect to discuss ways to reduce spending, at the 2015 legislative session, on geriatric inmates, like medically recommended parole.

Because Texas spends millions of dollars a year on geriatric prison inmates to treat chronic health conditions, lawmakers are discussing options to change this.

Next session, members of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee expect to discuss geriatric parole, also known as medically recommended parole, which would allow some elderly inmates to finish out their sentence outside the prison system. 

"If we’re spending millions of dollars on 80-year-old double amputees, just your whole geriatric wing, would you ever see it as your role to come before us and say, 'I need more money over here on transportation, technology...and guess where you can find it? I've got 10,000 geriatric patients that don’t need to be confined in our most maximum security prisons,'" said State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the committee, to Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Sen. Whitmire says it could cost about $600,000 or more to keep an inmate on a respirator. Another mounting expense is treatment for hepatitis C because of the cost of the medication. About 30 percent of offenders come into the system with hepatitis C.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s managed health care committee will meet in December to present a new policy on treatment, particularly those who have advanced liver disease and those who are co-infected with hepatitis B or HIV.

Another issue they discussed is the treatment of mental illness. The department has about 25,000 offenders with mental healthcare needs. Whitmire says more could be done to help them, especially those in isolation in ways such as offering books and religious counseling.

"You’ve gotta be looking for new and better ways to do things," he said. "The way of providing health care is pretty similar since I've been doing this for 20 years now."

The TDCJ's Livingston says some alternative programs are preparing former gang members to re-enter the outside world, for instance.

"We've had tremendous success in having offenders renounce their gang affiliations," Livingston said. "I want to say roughly 4,500 offenders since the inception of that program."

Lawmakers will also follow up on alternative programs after the next legislative session starts in January, because they substantially reduce criminal justice spending.

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