January 2018 - Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS)

Bill Allows for Parole of the Medically Frail

The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) estimates that as many as 850 people under their supervision are medically frail. Medically frail people are unable to perform basic tasks of daily living without assistance and are often unable to get dressed, use the bathroom, or eat on their own. These people are so frail that they are not a threat to public safety.

The number of medically frail people under the custody of the MDOC is growing. In 2016, 23.5 percent of incarcerated people were over the age of 50. This is a 6.5 percent increase since 2009. As a result, the MDOC bears the financial burden of operating as a nursing and end-of-life care provider.

House Bill 4101, introduced by Representative Dave Pagel (R – District 78), reforms the current system by authorizing medical paroles for the medically frail. Once someone is determined to be medically frail, the parole board can use its parole discretion. The bill allows nursing and end-of-life care to be placed in the hands of medical professionals.

On December 6, 2017, Rep. Pagel urged the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee to place the final parole decision with the board, rather than the courts, saying:

These are professionals who are experienced in making these decisions and reviewing the documents necessary to make the parole decision.

Currently, MDOC strives to provide an adequate level of care at the Duane Waters Health Center. The Center operates 112 inpatient beds for incarcerated people whose medical needs cannot be addressed at other MDOC facilities.

The bill will allow the MDOC to focus on other critical functions, such as programming, vocational training, and reentry support services.

According to the House Fiscal Agency’s legislative analysis, the bill would result in a cost savings to the state. Health care costs for the aging prison population is a large and growing cost for the MDOC. Medical parole would allow health care services in the community, which are Medicaid eligible services. Medicaid does not cover the cost of health care services for people during incarceration.

Rep. Peter Lucido (R – District 36) introduced House Bill 4102 that is tie-barred to HB 4101, which means it would not take effect unless both bills are enacted. HB 4102 clarifies that any incarcerated person can be eligible for the special medical parole, even prior to their first parole eligibility date.

John Cooper, policy director of CAPPS, supported the legislation through written testimony, stating:

I strongly encourage the Legislature to pass this legislation, which will save taxpayers millions, allow MDOC to focus on its core functions instead of elder care, and provide a more appropriate environment than prison for medically frail prisoners who pose no meaningful threat to public safety.

A number of organizations support the bill in addition to CAPPS, including the ACLU of Michigan, American Friends Service Committee Michigan Criminal Justice Program, and Correct Life. Currently, the MDOC does not take a position on the bill but supports the concepts outlined in the proposed legislation.

If you would like to join CAPPS’ efforts, please contact Laura Sager, executive director, at lmsager@gmail.com or select “Join” on the CAPPS website home page (http://2015capps.capps-mi.org/) in the upper right corner.