Elizabeth Howard Espinosa is CSAC’s Legislative Representative in the area of Administration of Justice. For more, visit The County Voice.

In a previous blog, we reflected on a significant policy change proposed in SB 1399 (Leno), which would establish a medical parole program for the state’s most seriously ill prisoners.

From a fiscal perspective, the bill would relieve the state of the cost of guarding inmates around the clock in hospitals – an arguably imprudent use of scarce state resources, particularly if one considers that the inmates eligible for medical parole are, for example, unable to perform basic daily functions; have experienced full loss of muscle control or neurological function; are in a persistent vegetative state; or are terminally ill. A quick update on the bill as we head in to the last month of legislative activity.

As a refresher, Senator Leno’s measure would put in place a process and decision-making criteria allowing the state to grant medical parole to those determined to be physically or cognitively debilitate or incapacitated. Certain offenders would not be eligible for the program, as specified, including condemned inmates and those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In addition, the Board of Parole Hearings could only accord the medical parole status to those inmates who would not reasonably pose a threat to public safety.

CSAC organized a group of county subject-matter experts to discuss in detail the anticipated local impacts of a medical parole program. Senator Leno and his staff have worked diligently with county representatives to ensure that the costs of providing medical services to this population in the community remain the responsibility of the state. We anticipate additional amendments – beyond those of the June 23 version of the bill – to further clarify this point.

When the Legislature returns from its summer recess, SB 1399 will be heard before the Assembly Appropriations Committee. To date, votes on the measure have fallen primarily (although not exclusively) along partisan lines. The state sheriffs’ association and the statewide association of chief probation officers have both joined in supporting the bill.

A recent Ventura County Star article offers a lengthy and thoughtful discussion of the medical parole policy, including concerns raised by opponents. What do you think about the idea? We would love to hear perspectives and insights from counties. Determining how to best approach the detention of aging and infirm inmates is one of the many fascinating issues that will play out as the 2010 legislative session winds to a close next month.

For more, visit The County Voice,
a place where CSAC, county officials and stakeholders can voice their thoughts on governance and issues that impact California’s 58 counties.