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As state budgets continue to shrink, prison costs continue to rise.  Especially in places like Kentucky where an incredibly high percentage of the population is incarcerated.  Depending on which study you read, Kentucky consistently ranks in the top ten in incarceration rates per capita.  As reported by WFPL, as of August this year, the state’s prison population sat at 24,016.  Kentucky is also spending an incredible amount on corrections.  The current budgeted amount is $628 million, up from $531 million in 2016.

Monetary pressure has caused many county jails to seek outside help in providing medical care.  Companies, like Southern Health Partners and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, contract with local facilities to provide some level of medical care to inmates.  The care is offered on an a le carte basis with the jail purchasing coverage by doctors, registered nurses or cheaper LPNs as they see fit.

Inmate’s Rights

The law is clear that inmates are entitled to emergency medical care equal to that in the surrounding community.  Kentucky regulation Section 501 KAR 3:090 – Medical services, sets forth the basic minimum standards.  Under this regulation, inmates are to be evaluated prior to accepting them into the jail facility for medical conditions.  Further, if the jail is unable to provide the required level of care, the prisoner is to be transferred to an appropriate facility. 

Treatment of Chronic Conditions

Questions arise then when the inmate has a chronic, and potentially fatal condition, like hepatitis C.  Would a jail facility be required to provide inmates with expensive medications to treat these conditions?  Does the continuing delay in treatment rise to the level of a medical emergency?

Some inmates in Nevada have said yes and are suing the Nevada prison system for exactly that coverage. In the past few years, numerous class-action suits have been filed in many states seeking direct-acting antiviral, or DAA, medications for the treatment of hepatitis C.  Inmates in Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Minnesota have all had varying degrees of success in getting DAA treatment.

Budget Issues

But with treatment costing more than $30,000 per inmate, is it feasible for states to be required to carry the cost of this expensive treatment?  Further, as inmate populations continue to rise due to drug use, the incidence of hepatitis C among inmates continues to increase, compounding the issue.

Unfortunately, this is a growing problem without a real solution.  Until states stop criminalizing drug addiction issues, budgets will continue to cause real harm to real people.

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