There are about 30,000 Virginians in state prisons, and Virginia spends more than $25,000 a year to house each of them, making the Department of Corrections the most expensive agency in Richmond, with a billion dollar annual budget. It spends $160 million on healthcare, but critics say that care is inadequate, and some inmates could be dying for lack of medical attention.
Another 30,000 people are locked up in city or county jails, and as we hear in this series, their care is also questionable.
The state of Virginia spends an average of $5,300 a year per inmate for medical care in prisons, and that cost has been rising 5-7 percent per year, but taxpayers may not be getting their money’s worth, and people locked up for minor crimes could be paying with their lives.
At the Indian Creek Correctional Center in Chesapeake, 47-year-old Steven Jowers recalls what happened to his friend Fly.
Fifty years ago, this country began closing mental hospitals where people with psychiatric disorders were often warehoused.
The idea was to send patients back to their communities, where they would live better lives with help from local mental health programs.
Unfortunately, those services were limited, and many people ended up on the streets or behind bars. Today, up to 18% of inmates in Virginia prisons are taking drugs for psychiatric conditions, and critics say some are being punished because they can’t comply with prison rules.
The United States has more people in prisons and jails than any other country in the world -- 2.2 million inmates -- a 500% increase over the past thirty years. We’re also a graying society, with millions of baby boomers claiming the title of senior citizen.
Those two trends spell trouble for Virginia’s prisons.
When inmates are locked in prison, they lose their freedom - and years of their lives. Experts like Tina Maschi, a professor at Fordham University in New York, say time behind bars makes prisoners look and feel ten years older than they are.
By the end of this year, California must release 9,600 prisoners from the nation’s largest correctional system, because the Supreme Court says overcrowding makes it impossible to provide adequate healthcare for inmates.
Failing to do so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment - a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Virginia’s prisons are also crowded and facing a lawsuit over medical care.