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California Medical Parole Bill

From lawbrain.com

SB1399 is a California bill that would allow medical parole for terminally ill prisoners.



SB1399[1] is a California bill that would allow certain ill prisoners, who cannot function on their own, the opportunity to be released on medical parole and thereby saving the state of California over $200 million annually in inmate healthcare costs. SB1399 is sponsored by State Sen. Mark Leno and recently passed in the California State Senate with a 21-13 vote. The bill will go to the California Assembly to be voted upon. SB 1399 is sponsored by J. Clark Kelso, the Prison Health Care Receiver who was appointed by the federal court following the Schwarzenegger v. Plata case.


California has the highest number of inmates in its prisons and spends more than $11,000 per inmate on healthcare. This is a significant amount considering Texas, who has the second highest number of inmates, spends approximately $2,750 per inmate on healthcare. The courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional for inmates not to have access to healthcare and with a $19 billion budget deficit, California is looking at ways to reduce these health care expenses. The Prison Health Services Department has been heavily pressured to by the state to cut $800 million from their $2 billion budget.[2] The state currently spends more on prisons than on higher education.  In a recently released audit for 2007-2008, it showed that specialty health care providers for prisoners cost the state of California $734 million that fiscal year.[3]  SB1399 is an attempt to reduce inmate healthcare costs in California by introducing medical parole.

Medical Parole

Medical parole would be applicable to those inmates in state prisons who are permanently debilitated and whose release would not pose a public safety threat. Those inmates that have been sentenced to death, life without possibility of parole, or those sentenced under the Three-Strikes Law would be excluded from the program. It is possible for an inmate that is very sick with a life term, but who is eligible for parole, may be considered for medical parole. With these restrictions, approximately 700 state prison inmates would qualify for consideration for medical parole.[4]

The California state prison health system has identified 21 inmates whose average annual health care and guard costs total more than $1.97 million apiece. This is approximately $41.4 million a year for the care of 21 prisoners. These inmates are located in off-site nursing facilities or hospitals which require paying guard time, even though these prisoners are severely incapacitated. Eleven other inmates are inside prison health centers, where their annual medical bills average $114,395 each. There are currently 1,300 California state inmates whose health care costs exceed $100,000 a year. Inmates released on medical parole would shift the cost of their health care from the state to the federal government as prisoners cannot enroll in Medi-Cal or Medicare, but paroles can.[5]

The federal prison system and approximately 30 states have either a medical parole law or a compassionate release procedure allowing dying prisoners an early release from prison.

California already allows dying inmates to apply for compassionate release, also known as medical parole, although few are actually released before their deaths.  See California Penal Code, section 1170 (e)(2) (A)(B)(C) below:

The court shall have the discretion to resentence or recall if the court finds that the facts described in subparagraph (A) and (B) or subparagraphs (B) and (C) exist:

  • (A) The prisoner is terminally ill with an incurable condition caused by an illness or disease that would produce death within six months, as determined by a physician employed by the department.
  • (B) The conditions under which the prisoner would be released or receive treatment do not pose a threat to public safety.
  • (C) The prisoner is permanently medically incapacitated with a medical condition that renders him or her permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living, and results in the prisoner requiring 24-hour total care, including, but not limited to, coma, persistent vegetative state, brain death, ventilator-dependency, loss of control of muscular or neurological function, and that incapacitation did not exist at the time of the original sentencing.

SB1399 seems to reiterate what is already stated in the California penal codes.

Alternatives to Medical Parole

Additional areas that are being researched for their potential cost reductive results are partnering with the University of California medical schools to provide medical care for prisoners and the use of telemedicine, where the doctor is able to the patient via an interactive audiovisual media for the purpose of consulting and examinations.


  1. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/sen/sb_1351-1400/sb_1399_bill_20100520_amended_sen_v94.pdf
  2. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/apr/20/why-medical-parole-may-save-california-millions/
  3. http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2010/05/audit-on-prison.html
  4. http://www.csac.counties.org/blogs/index.php/2010/04/medical-parole-an-rx-for-the-states-most-costly-prison-inmates-2/
  5. http://www.sacbee.com/2010/03/28/2638467/watchdog-proposes-medical-parole.html#ixzz0jabSG1KT

External Links

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