Medical parole for a select few could serve as key compromise in California prison reform debate

As noted in CAIVN’s Public Safety and Prison Reform forum, “the per-prisoner cost of California prisons is in the range of $50,000 per year, significantly higher than in other states,” and the main reasons are, “Extraordinarily high medical costs driven by an aging inmate population, the remote locations of most facilities, and the relatively high cost of health care in California.”

One potential solution offered by prison reform advocates is medical parole, the early release of prisoners suffering from medical conditions that require their frequent and costly transportation- under armed escort- between California’s usually remote, rural prison facilities and its well-equipped urban hospitals. While this solution cuts fiscal expenses, critics ask “at what human cost?”

Medical parole advocates must face down a skeptical public, still reeling from high profile cases of criminals on parole committing violent crimes. Take John Gardner, a California sex offender whose prison sentence of six years (he was released on parole after five) for attacking a 13 year old girl seemed outrageously low to many Californians. Despite seven parole violations, Gardner managed to stay out on the streets of San Diego to rape and murder 17 year old Chelsea King this February, shocking the entire country.

How then can we contain growing prison costs- especially those related to health care- while still keeping Californians safe?

J. Clark Kelso, the federal court-appointed prison health receiver has a solution that he believes would do both.  He says that California could save millions a year by granting medical parole to only a very few, hand-selected inmates who are comatose or otherwise severely incapacitated.

The Sacramento Bee reports: “An aide in Kelso’s office said that, conservatively, the prison system could save $213 million over five years by paroling just 32 inmates identified as severely incapacitated.” This would cut costs, Kelso argues, while keeping Californians safe, because it restricts medical parole to prisoners who do not pose any danger to the public because they are physically incapable of committing another crime.

By restricting medical parole to only severely incapacitated inmates, the state would ensure that any health-related early release policy would not produce another John Gardner-type outrage.

So, what do you think?

Is it wasteful for California to spend millions guarding inmates in a vegetative state as they lie in a hospital?

Or is leaving them unguarded too risky a gamble for our safety?