Experts Call for Prison Reform in Texas as Health Care Costs Rise


Texas has made moves to reduce its massive prison population in recent years. Some experts say the state’s reforms don’t go far enough as prisons struggle with rising health care costs associated with older inmates.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice revealed the cost of prison health care rose more than 50% over the last seven years.

The state spent over $750 million on prison health care in the 2019 financial year, a 53% increase on seven years earlier when the cost was under $500 million, the Texas Tribune reported.

Although the total prison population fell by 3% in that time, the number of inmates aged 55 or over rose by 65%, placing a massive burden on health budgets.

As experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers, we are acutely aware of how tough Texas is on crime. People can end up behind bars for relatively minor offenses.

Almost 150,000 people behind bars rely on the Department of Criminal Justice to meet their health care needs. Prison officials warn the age of the prison population and the cost of treating diseases like cancer, HIV, and hepatitis continues to push up costs.

Texas has the seventh highest incarceration rate in the country but has made moves to reduce its inmate population in recent years.

Experts argue it needs to do more to keep down its ballooning inmate prison health care costs. They say more aging inmates should be paroled, and Texas should do more to keep people with mental illness and substance abuse issues out of prisons.

Owen Murray, vice president for the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Correctional Managed Care, told the Tribune, prison costs are unlikely to fall if the state continues to incarcerate “the same kind of demographics you’re sending to prison now.”

Marc Levin, the vice president of criminal justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said efficiency measures can only go so far.

Notwithstanding the rising costs of medicine, a lawsuit claims inmates are being denied basic health care rights.

Inmates in a class-action lawsuit filed against Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Correctional Managed Care claims inmates’ constitutional rights were violated through the deprivation of Hepatitis C drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a Hepatitis C antiviral drug in 2011 that has cure rates of over 90%. The complaint states that TDCJ and UTMB officials only consider the use of drugs when inmates sustain liver damage.

The Houston Chronicle reported at least 18,000 inmates have been diagnosed with the virus, and nearly 45,000 may be infected in Texas prisons.

The cost of mental health drugs is also exorbitant in jails and prisons. A report by the Urban Institute in 2015 revealed more than half of all inmates suffer from some kind of mental illness.

At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, our criminal defense lawyers know how important it is to keep defendants out of prison whenever it’s possible. Please contact us if you or a family member has been arrested in Texas.

At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, we are experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to providing aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses charged with crimes.