Mich. House OKs parole options for ‘medically frail’

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The Michigan House voted late Wednesday to authorize new parole options for “medically frail” prisoners, a potentially cost-saving measure that is part of an effort to reform the state’s criminal justice system.

To qualify, inmates would have to meet requirements related to their medical conditions and their limited risk to public safety. They’d also have to agree to placement in a non-prison medical facility that offers care deemed appropriate by the state Parole Board.

Supporters hope the paroled offenders could then quality for Medicaid coverage, saving the state approximately 65 percent on health care costs that would be subsidized by the federal government.

“These are folks that are not runners,” said Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, who estimated about 120 prisoners a year would qualify. “They’re bed-ridden, some of them are taken advantage of and abused in prison, and this is just a better place for them to be.”

Pscholka said there are companies interested in setting up Medicaid-eligible facilities to house the medically frail parolees, but he said the state still is working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to try and get approval.

The legislative package would require a medical parole term to last through what would have been the prisoner’s earliest prison release date. Parolees would be required to adhere to certain conditions for the length of that parole term.

The bills also would implement new misdemeanor penalties for anyone who helps them escape a medical facility or provides them with contraband.

“Their statuses will change, but not their sentences,” Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Oronoko Township, said in a statement. The legislation would offer medically frail prisoners “a more compassionate treatment while still protecting public safety.”

Pscholka, Pagel and Rep. Rob Verheulen, R-Walker, sponsored the three-bill package, approved in a series of bipartisan votes.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, which has not acted on a series of other criminal-justice reforms approved by the House. Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, introduced a separate criminal-justice reform package this week in the upper chamber.

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