Local News

Health Care Costs Going Up In State Prison System

Posted May 11, 2006 8:57 a.m. EDT

— The state has spent $6 million for the health care of 10 inmates this year alone. That may not seem fair, but it's the state's obligation. Now more money is needed.

The Department of Correction budgeted $156 million this year to provide health care for convicted criminals. With rising costs, taxpayers will end up spending nearly $193 million to treat prisoners for everything from colds to cancer.

"It's been tough," said North Carolina Prisons director Boyd Bennett. "It's been tough a number of years."

Bennett said the prison population rises by about 1,000 inmates a year. Prisoners are also spending more time in state custody, getting older and sicker in the process. Like it or not, the state is required to care for them.

"It's a population we have," said Bennett. "We have to deal with that population, and we have court mandates and many other mandates. We have to provide healthcare."

"When I was sheriff and I hired someone to work in my detention facility, I would tell them, 'You've got to realize the people who are housed here have more rights than you do," said House Minority Leader Rep. Joe Kiser.

The state House voted unanimously to allocate $15 million in emergency money to cover the prisons' shortfall.

"It's much cheaper to take care of it than it is to go to court," said Kiser.

Gov. Mike Easley wants to spend another $152 million to build a new hospital and mental health facility at Central Prison. The DOC's budget for outside hospital care this year ballooned from $43 million to more than $80 million.

"Our need was there 10 years ago," said Bennett. "Our need is even more now."