Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reducing Jail Costs, Reducing Recidivism, Part II

A week ago, I raised the issue of Medicaid, and the federal/state policy of cutting off otherwise eligible incarcerated individuals from Medicaid coverage even before their trial. ( This policy shifts the cost of inmate medical care directly to County taxpayers, and also has a very negative impact on our efforts to lower recidivism.

Many readers were startled that such a practice was even taking place, particularly when people are being denied benefits before they have been found guilty of any crime.

The good news: We've made a lot of progress on this issue.

Last week, myself, Todd Portune and Sheriff Simon Leis sent a letter to our Congressional delegation (Senators Brown and Voinovich, and Representatives Chabot and Schmidt), asking them to support H.R. 5698--Restoring the Partnership for County Health Care Costs Act. This Act would continue Medicaid coverage for all pre-trial inmates. Here's a link to our letter:

This legislation presents a great opportunity for our federal elected officials to help us tackle one of our most serious challenges as a County, not to mention save millions of dollars in local property taxes. It should help that both local Democrat and Republican leaders are calling for this change, and its benefits are many: local property tax relief, basic fairness, and a safer community. I'll keep you posted on their response.

At the same time, the working group I mentioned in my previous post has already met, and is making progress. Through our County contract with the Free Store to increase Medicaid enrollment generally, we are putting a process into place that will aim to reinstate every eligible inmate into Medicaid at the time they complete their sentence and re-enter the community.

Without this coverage to pay for medical help, some--particularly those with mental illnessess that demand costly medicine--will quickly re-engage in behaviors that will bring them right back into our jail. Hopefully, the new process will help end that cycle. And again, all this will save local taxpayers potentially millions of dollars over time.

Next step . . . talking to state leaders about changing the state approach to this, which some readers correctly noted was a significant part of the problem.

I'll continue to provide updates as we move forward.

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