Prison Health Care System in Jeopardy
How to slash budget without inviting federal intervention
By Jordan Smith,
5:49PM, Mon. Feb. 21, 2011
Can the state cut 24% from the budget to provide health care to prisoners without running into Constitutional trouble?
That's the question being asked right now by Houston Dem Sen. John Whitmire, during a session of the Senate Finance Committee happening now.
With the cut proposed to the budget –– to provide medical services for the roughly 155,000 inmates in the Texas prison system, some of whom are quite ill and many of whom have chronic illnesses (think HIV) – the state would only have roughly $6 per inmate, per day to spend on health care. And that could put the state very close to the edge of having a problem under the Eighth Amendment, which provides that the government must not impose cruel and unusual punishments – denying medical services is one of those.
Currently Texas is 49th in funding for inmate health care, noted Whitmire. Does Correctional Managed Health Care Committee Executive Director Allen Hightower think that's a problem? "In my opinion," Hightower said, "I don't know how we could meet the standard at $6 per day."
UPDATE: Archived footage of the Senate Finance Committee hearing can be found here.