04/17/05 — Sick in jail: Law enforcement budgets need help with medical costs

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Sick in jail: Law enforcement budgets need help with medical costs

It is a drain on thousands of local budgets.

Providing medical care to inmates at local jails is a continuous problem, with no easy answer. The care must be provided — it is mandated. It must be paid for with tax dollars; that is how the county pays its bills.

So, the local law enforcement officials are in a quandary. They don’t want to take tax money to pay inmates’ medical bills, but there is no other available answer.

The costs associated with inmate care can be staggering. Think of what bills insurance pays for an emergency heart procedure. Add in some dental costs; even an extraction is not cheap. Then keep in mind that there are medication needs that must be covered.

Often, the inmates are not the most healthy people either. Problems that are rampant in the general population such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are even more prevalent at the jail.

All that adds up to a lot of money and a lot of worry.

Decency requires that those who are incarcerated receive minimum medical treatment. That is the right thing to do.

There has to be some way to take the burden for some of this patient care off the books of local law enforcement budgets. Perhaps a reimbursement program after release could be considered or maybe even a work-as-you-go medical care payment plan. No matter what the choice, there needs to be a way to make inmates understand they will not be allowed to stick anyone with a bill.

Perhaps the solution might be to work on what puts people in jail in the first place. Tougher sentences that make people think twice before committing crimes might cut back a little on the inmate population. Alternative sentences are also another idea. Neither is the solution, but they are both good first steps.

Published in Editorials on April 17, 2005 12:39 AM