Bill to parole medically incapacitated prisoners in California advances

Correctional officers stand watch over an inmate receiving treatment in the emergency room at California State Prison, Corcoran, in Corcoran, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. A federal court-appointed receiver says the state needs to pay $8 billion to upgrade prison's medical and mental health care.
Correctional officers stand watch over an inmate receiving treatment in the emergency room at California State Prison, Corcoran, in Corcoran, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. A federal court-appointed receiver says the state needs to pay $8 billion to upgrade prison's medical and mental health care. AP

A bill to put some medically incapacitated inmates on parole cleared a key State Senate committee today in Sacramento. The measure could save California hundred of millions of dollars each year.

The bill (SB-1399) would let the state parole board grant medical parole to inmates who are so sick that they can’t survive without life support or round-the-clock nursing care.

Senator Mark Leno (D-SF) said medical parole “is for inmates who can’t get out of bed to go to the bathroom. They can’t dress themselves. They can’t do much at all.”

Leno estimates about 700 inmates in California would qualify for medical parole. That he said could save the deficit-ridden state.

“In many cases, these inmates are costing the state over a million a year.” Leno Said. “And it’s not just the extraordinary health care costs. Many of these inmates are placed at outside facilities, with two armed guards standing next to a comatose person 24/7 at a huge cost to the state.”

Senator Leno says if those inmates were on medical parole, the federal government could pay for the cost of care.

Under his bill, prisoners sentenced to death or life without parole wouldn’t qualify for medical parole. Neither would inmates convicted under California’s “three strikes” law.

The Department of Corrections could send an inmate back to prison for violating the terms of medical parole. In the unlikely event that a medically incapacitated inmate recovers, the board could send the inmate back to prison. Senator Dave Cogdill (R-Fresno) warned that could get tricky.

“How do we get them back to prison?” Cogdill asked. “I’m concerned about that. How do we follow through with that to make sure that does take place in those instances?”

Cogdill and the other Republican on the Senate Public Safety Committee — Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) — voted against medical parole, but the measure passed.

The Senate Appropriations takes it up next. If they approve the measure it goes next for a full Senate vote.

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