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Cost To Care For California's Prisoners Skyrockets

STOCKTON (KPIX 5) -- Stockton's billion dollar prison medical complex is the crown jewel of California's correctional system, designed to save money by consolidating the sickest inmates in one place - but so far it hasn't worked out that way.

It's called the California Health Care Facility, a sprawling prison complex located just south of Stockton.

"We have over a thousand nurses, we have 27 doctors on site," Chief Medical Executive Dr. Anise Adams said during a tour of the facility.

A massive staff, to take care of more than 2000 sick prisoners from all over the state,  like Richard Mayes. "My spine is messed up, also I had heart problems," he said. He told KPIX appointments to see specialists take a long time, and he avoids the dentist. "They pull out all your teeth out," he said.

But most prisoners we talked to seemed content. "Staff is pretty good, food is OK," said Felipe Herrera. He goes for dialysis three times a week at the prison's in house clinic, just a few minutes walk from his cell.

Dr. Adams told us it's a win-win, for prisoners and for taxpayers. "The idea behind it from a healthcare perspective, is to really provide that economy of scale," she said.

But KPIX 5 found that's not what's happening.  Two years after opening for business, the billion dollar prison, paid for by taxpayers, hasn't made a dent in the cost of medical care for inmates. In fact, quite the opposite, medical costs are way up.

California spent $1.9 billion dollars on medical care for California prisoners in fiscal 2012-13.  Three years later the cost has skyrocketed, to $2.4 billion.

"Your numbers are correct," said Joyce Hayhoe with California Correctional Healthcare Services. "The population of over 60-year-old inmates is the fastest growing segment in our healthcare system and as a result of that we are going to definitely have higher costs.

She points to some cost savings, like the prison's new state of the art telemedicine program, that allows prisoners to consult with specialists on the outside while they stay behind bars. "Last year we provided over 25,000 telemedicine visits and we saved $12 million," said Hayhoe.

But we found prisoners are still being driven to outside hospitals in record numbers. We spotted a row of prison vans waiting at nearby San Joaquin General in a recent visit. In fact, outside hospital costs, provided through Healthnet, are up 8-percent. Transport and guarding costs statewide are up a whopping 52-percent.

Hayhoe says that's because the California Health Care Facility is not a hospital. "Any inmate that needs to have acute care treatment in a hospital needs to go to a hospital, just like you and I," she said. "It's a facility that provides skilled nursing care, like a nursing home."

KPIX asked Hayhoe, at what point are we spending too much money on inmate healthcare? She says, "Under the U.S. constitution when someone's liberty is taken away from them, the state is required to provide them with care."

Care the prisoners we talked to at least said they appreciate, like Felipe Herrera, "Oh I enjoy it here, I love it here," he said.

Prison officials and experts we talked to agree one way to reduce healthcare costs for inmates is compassionate release or medical release, because healthcare outside prison walls such as in a halfway house is much less expensive than healthcare on the inside.

Prison officials and experts agree - one way to reduce healthcare costs for inmates is compassionate release, or medical release. That's because they say healthcare outside prison walls - like in a halfway house - is much less expensive than healthcare on the inside.




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