AUSTIN, Texas — The debate over national health care coverage has spread to the corrections market, as Texas lawmakers consider a shift in the state’s budget. The question under fire is whether or not to close another prison and transfer older, infirm inmates into nursing homes so that more than $400 million in funding can be used for rising health care costs and repairs at some of the state’s aging correctional facilities, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The state currently plans to spend more than $6.8 billion over the next two years on corrections programs, but a tighter state budget means that lawmakers need to find ways to save $421 million in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice operations that oversee about 147,000 inmates. That $421 million, however, is needed to pay for some essential items for the corrections department
The largest expected part of the cost is the $247 million the state will have to pay to provide health care for the aging inmate population, which is requiring more doctors’ visits, equipment and medicines. An estimated 46 percent of the state’s inmates are over the age of 55 and require expensive hospital visits, according to a statement from officials on Feb. 20. While the state can increase the inmates’ health care copay from $100 to $200 a year, thousands of inmates cannot afford to pay for their care at the current price, the Houston Chronicle reported. Lawmakers are even looking into housing inmates in nursing homes or outside living centers to get them health care covered by federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
While health care is essential so are some of the repairs needed to run some of the facilities that date back more than 100 years. The main hospital in Galveston, for instance, needs a $22 million renovation, according to the Houston Chronicle. The corrections department also needs a $19 million upgrade to its 40-year-old mainframe computer system and an additional 1,000 substance-abuse treatment beds at the cost of $15.4 million. Even the maximum-security prisons need $10 million for new video surveillance systems.
One way to cut on costs is by closing another state prison, which would be the fifth closed by the state in six years. Other officials are looking to consolidate adjacent facilities to make them less expensive to operate. Even a change in prison operations could help make the state’s corrections facilities operate more efficiently, according to some lawmakers.