Modifying Criteria for North Carolina’s Medical Release Program Could Reduce Costs of Inmate Healthcare (October 2018)

Medical release programs allow for the release of inmates for certain reasons (e.g., age, medical condition) under specific terms (e.g., parole, furlough). A primary goal of these programs is to reduce healthcare expenditures. Advocates and opponents disagree on the merits of medical release programs. Advocates contend that qualifying inmates have lower recidivism rates and that their release shows compassion and potentially reduces overall state expenditures. Opponents contend that these inmates still pose a public safety risk and that their release compromises justice and could have a damaging psychological impact on victims. Established in 2008, North Carolina’s medical release program is somewhat more stringent than programs in other states. The number of inmates approved for medical release in North Carolina is similar to other states, suggesting the State’s program is functioning well and further indicating there is limited opportunity to achieve greater cost savings. States experience similar factors that restrict the cost savings they achieve from medical release programs, but modifications to state law could lead to more inmates being approved for medical release. If the General Assembly seeks to broaden the pool of qualifying inmates, it should consider expanding eligibility to inmates convicted of Class B crimes, lowering the minimum age to 60, and expanding eligibility to those inmates diagnosed as having less than 18 months to live.

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