Giving Compass' Take:
- Michelle Pitcher reports that most states normally charge copays for prisoners who want medical care, but many have stopped to encourage care during COVID-19.
- What role can you play in ensuring that prisoners receive proper medical care during COVID-19 and beyond?
- Learn more about COVID-19 response in prisons.
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As COVID-19 threatened jails and prisons in March, the Connecticut Department of Corrections decided to waive the $3 fee it charged prisoners for a medical visit.
“We didn’t want the lack of funds to be a reason offenders were denied medical treatment, especially during the pandemic,” said Andrius Banevicius, public information officer for the prison system. “We wanted as many offenders as possible to have access to medical care.”
As prisons throughout the country have become hotspots for the coronavirus—and as prisons’ medical capabilities have been the focus of scrutiny—states have been divided over whether to continue to charge for medical treatment.
All but 12 states and the District of Columbia charge fees to prisoners who ask to see a doctor; officials say they want to discourage prisoners from abusing the medical system or stretching staff too thin.
Rates are set by each state, ranging from $2 to $8 each time a prisoner seeks a visit, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a national think tank. But low wages in prisons mean this fee could be equivalent to a week’s work, and the cost can discourage prisoners from seeking care.
While Connecticut and 10 other states’ corrections departments have waived all copays because of COVID-19, others have suspended fees only for those exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, and one state has made no changes at all, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Some states made the changes preemptively, while others were compelled by courts to eliminate the fees.
In Arizona, corrections department officials removed the costs after a federal judge found that their response to the pandemic was inadequate.
Nevada charges prisoners $8 per visit. It opted not to make any changes to its medical fee policy during the pandemic, but Scott Kelley, a department spokesman, said medical officials within the prison are refraining from charging “when there is clear evidence the medical service is directly COVID-19 related.” Kelley said the department charges copays to defray the cost of inmate health care.
Read the full article about charging prisoners for medical care by Michelle Pitcher at The Marshall Project.