Friday 19 November 2010

Prison board studies charging inmates for doctor visits

When inmates come into the Fayette County Prison, they may find themselves charged a $20 booking fee and a $15 co-pay when they want to see the doctor.
The prison board on Wednesday unanimously voted to recommend both changes to the county commissioners for a final vote.
Prison board members Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites, Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky, District Attorney Jack R. Heneks Jr., Sheriff Gary D. Brownfield Sr. and Controller Sean Lally voted for the measures.
Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink, also a board member, was not at the meeting.
"The taxpayers are providing the services, the care + it makes sense," said Zapotosky, who participated in the meeting via speakerphone.
Vicites noted that other counties have similar programs, and they have withstood legal challenges.
Brownfield, a veteran in the field of law enforcement, said that he is aware that people get into prison and request to see a nurse or a doctor with one goal.
"They're only purpose is to get pain medication," he said, noting that instituting a co-pay for a request to see a doctor or nurse may cut down on that.
The board also directed Warden Brian Miller to look into the practices of other counties to see if they charge inmates for their daily meals.
Brownfield said each meal for an inmate in Fayette County costs about $1.31.
"I can't see why the taxpayers have to keep picking up the bill," Brownfield said.
"Our prison has experienced continued growth over the years, and we have to take care of the taxpayer," Vicites said.
Lally expressed concern that inmates who were truly indigent would not be able to afford meals if such a policy were put into place.
"We're not going to let anyone starve, believe me, but let those who can pay, pay," Brownfield said.
In other business, Miller said that the total population for the prison is currently 246 inmates. Of those, 233 men and 22 women are being housed at the county lockup. Six women are being housed in Greene County, where they will remain because the prison is at capacity for women.

Three men currently being housed in Greene will be moved back because nine men were taken to the state prison system and there is now room for them in Fayette County, Miller said.
The number of inmates who have been housed outside of the county has been much higher over the past several months, prompting about $480,000 in unanticipated costs for housing inmates from the overpopulated prison.
Vicites said the $40,000 allotted for cell rentals in last year's budget was based on a three-year average of what the county had to spend for rentals.
Miller said that cooperation from the judges and magisterial district judges has been key in getting the population down.
Brownfield said when the high-end range of a sentence is 24 months, inmates are put into the state prison system.
"They've got a bigger purse than we do," he said.
Heneks said that sending inmates into state prisons also is a benefit to them.
"There are a lot more services available at the state level than at the county level," he said.
Heneks also said that the county's intermediate punishment program is costly - about $460 a month - and indigent defendants likely can't afford the cost.
Intermediate punishment is a probationary-type sentence that includes the use of an ankle monitor.
Heneks said the county may want to consider allowing defendants who use the intermediate punishment program to pay overtime or adjust the cost of it.
Zapotosky said that the county has one of the highest costing intermediate punishment programs in the state.
"If there are barriers because of the cost, then we're defeating the purpose of the program," Vicites said.
In other matters, the board recommended to name Joel S. Bush to the position of captain at the prison. Miller said Bush agreed to take the position without additional pay.

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