Legislation Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Joseph Danielsen and Shavonda Sumter sponsored to expand eligibility for medical parole for inmates who are physically incapacitated and do not pose a public safety threat is now law.
“This is both a humane and cost-effective approach to incarceration,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Those who are eligible for parole under this law are physically incapacitated and do not pose a threat to public safety. Releasing them from the confines of our prison system will 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.”
Currently, 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 that he or she is permanently physically incapable of committing a crime if released on parole.
The new law (A-1661) will expand the eligibility for medical parole and require inmates to enroll in Medicaid under certain circumstances. Specifically, the new law will allow inmates who have a permanent physical incapacity – defined as a condition that renders the inmate permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living, results in a need for 24-hour care and did not exist at the time of sentencing – to also be released on medical parole. An inmate may only be released on medical parole for a permanent physical incapacity if it is determined that the conditions under which he or she 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), vice-chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. “This new law 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.”
There have been from zero to two medical paroles granted annually since 2010, according to the Office of Legislative Services. The changes authorized in the new law may result in increased eligibility for medical parole, thus reducing expenditures by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and county jails, which no longer will have to incarcerate or provide medical care to certain individuals.
Currently, whenever an inmate is granted medical parole, the Parole Board is required to ensure that his or her release plan ensures appropriate medical services will be available. The new law requires the Parole Board 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 new law prohibits denial of Medicaid enrollment based solely on the fact that the applicant is an inmate in a correctional facility. If an inmate enrolls in Medicaid while incarcerated, Medicaid payments would begin upon the inmate’s release.
The measure, which gained approval from both houses of the legislature in July, was signed into law on Sept. 13 and will take effect in April.