State prison population woes

American Press, Lake Charles, La.: An unusual group made up of both liberals and conservatives recently met at the University of New Orleans’ Jefferson campus for a discussion of how to reduce the state’s incarceration rate, without harming public safety.

In the past two decades, Louisiana’s prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions of dollars. At the same time, the state’s prison industry is a thriving economic engine for many parishes.

Controlling the costs ofmaintaining the state’s prison population is critical, the panel members agreed. One way, according to Judge Federicka “Ricky” Wicker of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, is to move bedridden inmates to hospitals. Wicker said Louisiana has already transferred millions of dollars from the general fund to cover the medical expenses of inmates, but the number of prisoners requiring care continues to grow.

The impending crisis will “skyrocket” by 2017, she said, because of the aging of those inmates who were sentenced as the Louisiana law that requires convicts to serve 85 percent of their sentences took effect.

Wicker’s proposed solution would allow for something called medical probation. Currently, ill inmates stay in prison, where the costs of their care is covered by the state. If they are transferred to hospitals or licensed hospice facilities, the inmates’ care would be covered under Medicare or Medicaid, Wicker said.

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