By JULIET WANG
Capital News Service
LANSING—Michigan’s most expensive prisoners are those with serious medical problems, said Patricia Caruso, director of the Department of Corrections.
“Health care is a big, big costly issue,” said Caruso. “Keep in mind a number of things, 75 percent of people in our system had some substance abuse.
“Many times you are looking at people who may have not been accessing health care regularly before they came into prison, so you have some of those.
“Combine that with the constitutional right to health care which we have an obligation to provide, and we do provide that. And then everything else that goes with it,” she said.
John Cordell, public information specialist at the Corrections, said the only group afforded health care is prisoners because of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
From 2001 to 2007, 887 inmates died, 28 from AIDS and 790 from other illnesses. Among them, 48 died from suicide, four from homicide, three from intoxication, eight from accidents and six were from unknown causes, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“When you get into the other side of it, first the length-of-stay issues and the fact that Michigan is a life-without-parole state,” Caruso said, there are going to be “people who age out and die in prison.”
“If you get a sentence of life without parole, you really are sentenced to death — you’re just sentenced to natural death,” she said.
“We have dialysis in one of our prisons, so if you are a person with compromised kidneys and you need to be on dialysis, you’re going to be at a specific prison in our system where you receive dialysis three times a week at the facility you’re at. These are very, very expensive things.
“We used to get a list of the top 100 most expensive prisoners in the system– always most expensive because of health care,” she said. “Often, the No. 1 prisoner is over a million dollars a year in health care costs.
“That’s not transporting or officers on overtime to watch them. It’s just health care.”
Caruso said, “I remember earlier this year there was a prisoner being transported every day to the University of Michigan for palliative treatment for cancer. And those are things you don’t have an option of doing.
“But we have worked controlling our costs through trying to be able deal to with more things at the prisons.”
Caruso and her department are trying to be more preventative in their approach to health care.
“But there’s still always going to be a number of things and challenges, and every so often issues come up in the health care avenue that are very challenging,” Caruso said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.