Monday, October 19, 2009

Prisons: The Largest Nursing Homes

Prisons Fast Becoming Hospices:

American prisons are home to a growing geriatric population, with one-third of all inmates expected to be over 50 by next year. As courts have handed down longer sentences and tightened parole, about 75 prisons have started hospice programs, half of them using inmate volunteers, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. More than 3,000 prisoners a year die of natural causes in correctional facilities.
I can hear the "get tough" types already: "why give 'em care at all? Why not let 'em suffer and die like the scum they are?"

Well, there's that pesky document called the Constitution, which according to it (and the Supreme Court) says there is a constitutional right to adequate health care when you are imprisoned.

But this isn't about taking care of inmates in hospice as much as it is further assessment of the collateral damage from the "get tough on crime" movement of the 80's and 90's. And there are some real concerns, especially as expressed by correctional staff.

Joan Smith, deputy superintendent of health services at the Coxsackie prison, said the hospice program here initially met with resistance from prison guards. “They were very resentful about people in prison for horrendous crimes getting better medical care than their families,” including round-the-clock companionship in their final days, Ms. Smith said.
One of the great ironies of imprisonment: inmates receive better health care than the staff does. In fact, the only group of people in the entire United States who receive unfettered, 100% free access to health care (no co-pays, no premiums, no deductibles) are prisoners.

I've made this point before, but it's worth making again: there is something seriously wrong with health care in this country when we have 45 million free citizens who are uninsured (with nearly a million going into bankruptcy each year because of medical debt), while 2.3 million felons and petty criminals get free health care (including dental, hospice, etc.) because they broke the law.

That's not to say inmates shouldn't get free health care, but it does suggest that law abiding citizens dropping dead because they have no access to health care is beyond the pale.

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