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Lansing – Michigan lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to legislation that would let the state release seriously ill and incapacitated prisoners early by having them treated at nursing homes or hospitals instead.

Those eligible would remain under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections, but they could be paroled before their earliest release dates if cared for in non-prison facilities. The state could save some money because the treatment of “medically frail” inmates could be fully or partly covered by Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance.

About 20 to 30 of the state’s 38,000-plus inmates may meet the criteria for being deemed frail and eligible for an early parole, according to legislative analyses. An additional 450 to 500 prisoners would not yet qualify but could sometime in the future based on their chronic care needs.

“Inmates that are older and medically frail by definition are not a threat. They can get better care and help save us tax dollars in the long run,” said Rep. Beth Griffin, a Mattawan Republican and a sponsor of the bipartisan bills that cleared the GOP-controlled Senate on 35-3 votes.

Supporters of the legislation say some prisoners are in comas or on ventilators, while others are bedridden with terminal illnesses. The measures, they say, would give them an alternative to the lengthy medical commutation process in a state with the country’s highest percentage of inmates over age 50.

Prisoners sentenced to life without parole or those convicted of first-degree sexual conduct would be ineligible for a medical parole. To be considered “medically frail,” an inmate would have to have:

 

  • A permanent or terminal physical disability or a serious and complex medical condition that makes him or her unable to walk, stand or sit without assistance; or
  • A permanent or terminal disabling mental disorder that requires a nursing-home level of care, and a significantly impaired ability to perform activities of daily living.

 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said the bills were under review. The Corrections Department, a part of her administration, testified in support of the legislation previously.

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