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Save money by paroling seriously ill inmates?

March 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A move is under way to reduce the health costs for state prison inmates by paroling many who are seriously ill.The California Medical Facility cares for chronically ill prison inmates. Some are even dying.

Fred Gusta, who is serving time for grand theft auto and kidnapping, has congestive heart failure and has six months to live.

"I just want to go home to my family and be with them and die in peace," said Gusta.

In a move to save taxpayers about $350 million a year in prison health care costs, Democrats introduced a series of bills that include medical parole to bring down expenses for the state's sickest inmates.

About 600 of them cost taxpayers $135 million per year for outside care. By giving them parole, they can be moved to other hospitals and the feds would pick up the tab.

The proposals have the backing of the federal receiver, who's in charge of improving prison health care to constitutional standards.

"If a frustrated public has told us all anything in recent years is that they want us to do a prison health care in a way that gives taxpayers relief from high costs," said Federal Receiver Clark Kelso.

Medical parole would not apply to those sentenced to death, life without parole or for their third strike. It'll mostly apply to those incapacitated.

Republicans are reluctant to support the package.

"We have examples of people who have been in wheelchairs who have molested kids. That's not good enough for us. Our role is public safety," said state Senator George Runner (R-Lancaster).

Gary Rubenstein is a three-striker and dying of lung cancer. While the L.A. County man would not be eligible for medical release under this proposal, he says a lot dying inmates can barely move.

"I can't imagine them doing another crime if you have trouble walking from your bed to the bathroom," said Rubenstein. "Committing another crime is pretty hard to do."

Asked if he still has the strength and ability to commit a crime if he were paroled, Fred Gusta replied: "Everyone, anyone does. If you can walk, you can commit a crime."