What should California do with state prison inmates who are bedridden and immobile? Or who have dementia and are incapable of independent movement, speech, or bladder control? Or who have end-stage disease and are too weak to exist outside of a skilled nursing setting?
One clear answer: California no longer can afford to do what it is doing. It is keeping these inmates, who pose no threat to public safety, within the prison system at huge cost to taxpayers.
For example, California has 21 inmates who are comatose, in a persistent vegetative state or at end-stage Alzheimer's disease. They require care in nursing facilities or hospitals outside of prison at an average per-year cost of $1,973,252 each. That is more than $41 million from the state's general fund.
A lot of that cost comes from rules that require prison guards to double-guard these incapacitated inmates who pose no threat to anybody — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Here's just one example from 2008: The six-month cost for a prisoner in a persistent vegetative state was $421,000 for medical care and $410,000 for double-guarding him as he lay immobile in his hospital bed.
Just whom does this serve? Do Californians, struggling to figure out how to pay for schools, roads and parks, benefit? No. Do crime victims benefit when the state pays two guards to stand over an incapacitated prisoner in a community hospital? Or from having an immobile prisoner shackled to a prison medical bed? No.
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