Local News

Inmates With Serious Medical Issues Drive Up Prison Health Care Costs

Posted May 12, 2006 9:00 a.m. EDT

— Around 37,000 convicted criminals are serving time in North Carolina state prisons. The law put them there, and the law requires that taxpayers take care of their health care needs.

Some cases are extreme. For the first six months of this fiscal year, one inmate -- a suspected car thief with a severe mental illness -- cost the state $534,000 for treatment of self-injuries. Taxpayers spent $352,000 to treat a murderer for respiratory failure. A burglar's brain injury care cost $335,000, while a rapist racked up nearly $250,000 for treatment of cancer.

North Carolina Prisons Director Boyd Bennett knows that is a large figure for the law-abiding public to accept.

"I certainly understand that," said Bennett. "I pay taxes too. My neighbors pay taxes. I hear that on a regular basis."

Correction leaders believe it will take more taxpayer money to save money. Sitting on an estimated $2 billion budget surplus, Gov. Mike Easley wants to allocate $152 million to build a new hospital and mental health facility at Central Prison.

"We have to provide healthcare for our inmate population," said Bennett. "If we don't have the facilities to do it, we have to go to facilities that can do it. And, obviously, we have to pay whatever they charge."

This becomes a no-win perception issue for state prisons. The public will continue to complain about the high cost of mandated care for criminals. On the other hand, inmates who claim they don't get adequate care constantly sue the state.

Four inmates with the most expensive healthcare needs this year have been released. Three others in the top 10 have died.