Senate Approves Schaer Cost-Saving Measure to Expand Medical Parole for those Who Do Not Pose a Public Safety Threat

Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer that would expand eligibility for medical parole for inmates who are physically incapacitated and do not pose a public safety threat received final legislative approval 22-10 by the Senate on Thursday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

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 this bill may result in a larger group of individuals who may be eligible for medical parole, which could lead to reduced expenditures by the State Department of Corrections and county jails as a result of no longer incarcerating or providing medical care to individuals who will be granted medical parole.

Schaer’s bill (A-4337) would expand the eligibility of inmates for medical parole and require the inmate to enroll in Medicaid under certain circumstances.

“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.”

Specifically, the bill would allow inmates who have a permanent physical incapacity to be released on medical parole, in addition to those suffering from 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 this 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.

Under the bill, the board panel is required to release an inmate on medical parole if he or she meets the criteria designated under current law and the provisions of this bill. Also, the bill requires the board panel to state on the record the reasons for granting or denying medical parole.

Under current law, whenever an inmate is granted medical parole, the parole board panel is required to ensure, as a condition precedent to release, that the inmate’s release plan contain certain provisions, including verification of the availability of appropriate medical services sufficient to meet the inmate’s treatment requirements.

This bill requires the appropriate board panel to ensure that any inmate who is an applicant for medical parole has the opportunity to apply, and is provided necessary assistance to complete the application, for Medicaid prior to any determination of ineligibility for release as a result of the board panel’s inability to verify the availability of medical services, which would include Medicaid.

In addition, the bill provides that any inmate who is an applicant for medical parole is not to be denied enrollment into Medicaid on the sole basis that the applicant 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.

Finally, the bill establishes reporting requirements for medical parole. Under current law, the Parole Board is required to issue an annual report of its work to the governor, the legislature, and the Juvenile Justice Commission. Under the provisions of this bill, the report is required to include information regarding medical parole including, but not limited to, the number of inmates who applied for medical parole, the number of inmates who were granted medical parole, and the number of inmates who were denied medical parole.

The bill, which passed the Assembly last month, now heads to the governor’s desk.