Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Joseph Danielsen and Shavonda Sumter that would expand eligibility for medical parole for inmates who are physically incapacitated and do not pose a public safety threat inched closer to final passage on Thursday, receiving approval from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“This is both a humane and cost-effective approach to incarceration,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Those who would be eligible for parole under this bill are physically incapacitated and do not pose a threat to public safety. Releasing them from the confines of our prison system would save the state money by shifting the costs to Medicaid, which is funded in part by the federal government, and in turn enable them to get treatment in a more humane setting.”
Under current law, an inmate may be released on medical parole if he or she is suffering from a terminal condition, disease or syndrome, which is defined as a prognosis that the inmate has six months or less to live. In addition, the inmate must be found to be so debilitated or incapacitated by the terminal condition, disease or syndrome that he or she is permanently physically incapable of committing a crime if released on parole.
According to the Office of Legislative Services, there have been from zero to two medical paroles granted annually since 2010. However, the changes authorized in the bill may result in increased eligibility for medical parole, thus reducing expenditures by the State Department of Corrections and county jails, which no longer will have to incarcerate or provide medical care to certain individuals.
The bill (A-1661) would expand the eligibility of inmates for medical parole and require inmates to enroll in Medicaid under certain circumstances.
Specifically, the bill would allow inmates who have a permanent physical incapacity to be released on medical parole, in addition to those already eligible due to a terminal condition, disease or syndrome. Under the bill, a “permanent physical incapacity” is defined as a medical condition that renders the inmate permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living, results in the inmate requiring 24-hour care, and did not exist at the time of sentencing.
Additionally, under the provisions of the bill, an inmate may only be released on medical parole for a permanent physical incapacity if it is determined that the conditions under which the inmate would be released would not pose a threat to public safety.
“New Jersey can save millions of dollars in taxpayer money by using parole as an alternative to prison for individuals who will not present a danger to those around them,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “This bill represents a forward-thinking, fiscally responsible vision of criminal justice.”
“At present, the criteria for medical parole are such that only a few very sick individuals in New Jersey prisons have qualified,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “By expanding these criteria, we can save taxpayer dollars without sacrificing public safety.”
Under current law, whenever an inmate is granted medical parole, the parole board panel is required to ensure that his or her release plan includes verification of the availability of appropriate medical services.
The bill requires the board panel to ensure that any inmate who applies for medical parole also can apply for Medicaid prior to any determination of ineligibility for release as a result of the panel’s inability to verify the availability of medical services.
In addition, the bill provides that any applicant for medical parole may not be denied Medicaid enrollment solely because he or she is an inmate in a correctional facility. If an inmate becomes enrolled in Medicaid while incarcerated, Medicaid payments would begin upon the inmate’s release from incarceration.
The measure was approved by the full Assembly last year and now awaits final legislative approval from the full Senate.