House OK’s bill to release ‘medically frail’ inmates
Lansing – Between 40 and 60 “medically frail” prisoners could qualify for early release and transfer to a nursing home or other medical facility under legislation approved Wednesday by the Michigan House.
The proposal is designed to improve care for aging inmates who pose “no threat” to the general public, and it would save the state money, said sponsoring Rep. Dave Pagel, R- Berrien Springs.
The three-bill package targets “prisoners who are no longer able to carry out some of the basic functions of daily life like moving, feeding themselves and dressing themselves,” Pagel said. “This is extreme medical frailty.”
The proposal is similar to a measure that passed the House two years ago but did not see a vote in the Senate. Supporters hope revisions can win over reluctant lawmakers and interest groups. It won bipartisan approval Wednesday in a 94-14 vote.
Rep. Pam Faris, D-Clio, said the bills have improved this session but told colleagues she still could not support them.
“My compassion goes to the victims and the families of the victims,” she said, noting the governor already has the power to commute prisoner sentences. “This is not something we have to do. The governor can do it anytime he wants to, or in the future she wants to.”
The legislation would allow the Michigan Parole Board to grant medical parole for certain prisoners, who would be place in an approved medical facility for treatment or care. Victims and their families could object during a parole hearing.
The proposal would save the state money by shifting paroled prisoners onto Medicaid, which would see the federal government cover about 65 percent of their nursing home costs, according to the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency.
Inmate health care costs are rising as the state’s prison population ages, with more than 23 percent of the state’s less than 40,000 inmates now over the age of 50.
A maximum of 60 prisoners could immediately qualify for nursing home release under the legislation, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections, but another 450 to 500 prisoners could become eligible in the future based on recurring health care needs.
“I very simply believe it’s’ the right thing to do,” Pagel said.