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State prisoner health costs low

Posted: July 13, 2014 - 12:11am

Georgia was already doing nearly as well as or better than other southern states in two categories – prisoner health care real cost dollars and the percentage of max out inmates released without supervision – even before the state began to implement criminal justice reform four years ago, according to two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project.

An adult inmate health care report published Tuesday analyzed percentage increases and actual dollars spent per adult inmate for all states during the five-year period 2007 through 2011. Pew said the median increase for all states was 10 percent with Georgia at just five percent. California had the greatest percentage increase – 42% – and the highest per inmate annual cost — $14,495. Georgia spent $4,018.

One reason for increased health care cost is older inmates … there are more of them and five years ago more states began to count and report the number of inmates age 55 and older. In that regard there is now more data to analyze and compare than existed earlier than 2009.

Southern states as a group spent less per person on adult inmate health care than did states in other regions. Seven of the eleven lowest spending states are from the South. Florida did not make the bottom eleven in terms of dollars spent but Florida showed a four percent decrease. South Carolina reported no percentage increase and actual spending was ranked 49th lowest.

Tennessee reported arguably the worst results by a Southern state with actual spending up 16 percent to $6,388 per inmate. North Carolina spending rose two percent to $6,287 per inmate. For a different context on those taxpayer dollars, Tennessee and North Carolina both spent about 50 percent more per person than Georgia for adult inmate health care.

Max out inmates serve complete sentences – usually longer rather than shorter sentences – before release into the community. Pew studied state-by-state data for 115,000 max out inmates who were released from state prisons during 2012 without any planned supervision. Georgia reported 3,436 max out inmate releases with no supervision plan which was 19.2 percent of all state prisoners released in 2012.

Georgia was a bit lower than the 21.5 percent average for all states nationally and much lower than its bordering states. Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida released between 30 and 64 percent of their inmates without any supervision.

Arkansas released five percent without supervision. Texas by comparison released almost 11,300 inmates without supervision, but those former felons were less than 14 percent of all Texas inmate releases.

“We shouldn’t have inmates leaving our prisons, where they are under lock and key 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and returning to their communities with zero supervision, accountability or support.,” said Adam Gelb is director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Performance Project. “That’s not common sense, and it flies in the face of research that public safety is better served when offenders undergo a period of supervision.”

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