Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reducing Crime and Recidivism: A Major Step Forward

A number of months ago, I wrote about the critical issue of reinstating Medicaid benefits as inmates finish their sentences and reenter the community.

Terminating, and not reinstating those benefits, has had the negative and costly effect of contributing to high recidivism and crime. The pattern is simple: with Medicaid terminated, those leaving our jails with mental illnesses or other medical needs (and that's a lot of people)--and therefore those who have substantial medical or treatment requirements--rarely have a way to pay for them. Without that basic medical care, and in some cases medicines to treat mental illnesses, they will often quickly reoffend, end up in jail again, and continue the revolving door of repeat crimes and taxpayer dollars wasted.

Through the Criminal Justice Commission we've created, we pointed out that a handful of other states had begun to solve this issue (by having Medicaid be "suspended" during incarceration, but automatically reinstated on release, as opposed to terminated outright), and that we should do the same. I sat down with Senator Bill Seitz to encourage him to take up this issue. And after some initial pushback by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Governor's office, after getting input from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, began to administratively handle the issue.

Well, today, I have further GREAT news.

Thanks to Senator Seitz's leadership, a Bill (HB 215) passed both the Ohio House and Senate that, among other things, adds Ohio to the small number of reform states that now "suspend" Medicaid, rather than terminate it, during incarceration. This means if a person has not lost eligibility for some other reason, as they reenter the community, those Medicaid benefits are automatically reinstated. And this greatly helps reduce their likelihood to reoffend (particularly those whose criminal behavior is related to a mental illness, addiction or other conditions).

In short, this is a measure that will reduce crime and recidivism, reduce demand on jailspace, and save taxpayer dollars--and it's now the law of the state. And it could not have come at a better time (though it will take some time to implement).

Thanks is owed to the County Commissioner Association of Ohio and the Governor's Office for understanding the importance of this issue, and particularly to Sen. Seitz for pushing it through the Ohio legislature so rapidly.


Anonymous said...

Great job.
But I have wondered if it is appropriate that we use Indigient Care funds for inmate medical care and whether or not anyone is actually determining if these inmates qualify for indigent care instead of paying it as , basically, a block grant. I just don't like it.
(By the way, the state needs to audit the manner in which hospitals are determining who qualifies for indigent care funds - I'm finding a huge disparity in hospital practices...)

Anonymous said...


Great Job and an excellent way to reach across the aisle !

Now, we need to work with Good-will Industries, Ohio Rehabilitation Commission, Social Security Administration to facilitate self-sufficiency either through work or a dignified life for those that can not fend for themselves.


Anonymous said...

This is a major step toward progress. However, why are these people put in jail in the first place? The obvious answer is because they've committed crimes. Still, I see other groups that I call WWW (Wealthy, White, and Well-connected) who don't get charged or they are carted off to a place to get stable. Certainly there is nothing wrong with WWW citizens but I'm sick of the disparity in sentencing. Also, most of the people with mental health issues (and extensive criminal records) are never allowed to become productive citizens, even after they've paid their debt to society, so they end up on Govt asistance in the form of SSI (still a burden on tax payers)

What our group is pushing to happen is that once a person has paid their debt to society, and gotten well...that is sober, mentally stable, they should be able to get employment. As it stands their criminal record prevents them from doing so.

Yes...medical care issue is a major step toward progress....still more needs to be done.



David Pepper said...

Thanks for the positive feedback, and no doubt there are other things we need to do to assure successful reentry (and the Criminal Justice Commission is working on those issues).

But for many, lack of treatment for immediate and acute needs is the primary obstacle to a successful reentry. Without it, no job or hope of a stable life is even possible--too often leading to a return to "the system." So this is a big step.

Anonymous said...


It is a big step.

Sometimes the citizen becomes greedy and expects much more from a broken system.

The citizen is not ungrateful, David, just frustrated in 2008 that we are fighting the obvious since 1954 ?


David Pepper said...

Appreciate your point.

Actually, I didn't take the citizen's comment in that way--and don't think it's "greedy" to demand that we create the best system possible. That's our job.

Just wanted to clarify that we are indeed working on other issues even as we achieved this significant victory.

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