By Senator Cam Ward
Our prison population overwhelms our facilities and is currently at almost double capacity. It consumes nearly one third of the General Fund Budget, stressing all other state agencies that are funded from the same source.
One of the most difficult challenges in my political service has been trying to bring sanity back to the way we pay for and run our corrections system.
As a strong conservative, my most sacred obligations are to protect you from those who would harm you and to be a wise steward of your tax dollars. I have worked tirelessly to pass reform bills that will do just that. The news events in the past couple of months continue to highlight the violence and unrest within our prison population.
With our prisons in a severe state of crisis with overpopulation, and with the worst inmate to corrections officer ratio in the nation, I understand that our work is not yet done. So I promise you to continue seeking common sense solutions that will result in keeping us safe, ensure that violent criminals are locked away in a secure environment, and better protect those who have the job of managing and staffing our prisons.
This past week, I passed Senate Bill 268 into law. Senate Bill 268 mandates that Medicaid will suspend benefits instead of terminating upon incarceration. The focus behind this bill is two-fold: stop the revolving door with the serious mental illness (SMI) population in our jails and prisons, and to reduce prison medical costs to the state. In short, if the state terminates Medicaid coverage upon incarceration the state loses the ability to shift the costs to the federal government.
With an aging prison population, these costs could be significant. This new law could result in sizeable savings to Alabama counties by allowing a jail prisoner that has been diagnosed as serious mental illness (SMI) to have their Medicaid benefits suspended instead of terminated. Sometimes it can take months to get Medicaid benefits reinstated once they have been terminated. Senate Bill 268 will result in their Medicaid benefits being restored in a matter of days.
To stop the revolving door of incarceration for a prisoner diagnosed with serious mental illness (SMI), it is imperative the prisoner gets the care and medicine they need in a timely manner. When this doesn’t occur, statistics show these very same people will continue to recycle though the jail system. This results in increased costs to cities, counties, and the state. More importantly, it puts you the citizen at risk. It is a proven fact that with treatment and medication, the SMI population can be effectively managed.
As always, please don’t hesitate to call or write with your concerns or suggestions.