Arizona state prisoners are being charged for their medical expenses when they’re taken to the hospital for using illegal substances, reported The Appeal.
The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) enacted this policy back in March of this year. Prior to this policy, the department charged prisoners co-pays for healthcare visits and the full cost of positive urinalysis tests for substance abuse.
“From a public health perspective this is the worst policy imaginable,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “The solution is treatment, not punishment. This policy is just reflexively punitive and entirely counterproductive.”
In a statement about the new restitution policy, Arizona public information officer Bill Lamoreaux said it was designed to hold prisoners accountable for their own actions. “ADC understands that the struggle with addiction is not an easy one,” he wrote. “However, obtaining contraband illegal drugs while incarcerated requires a series of deliberate and extremely poor choices.”
The ADC reports that 78% of those entering Arizona prisons have problems with addiction. Only 3,000 prisoners (out of 42,000) are offered treatment options each year.
Lamoreaux told The Appeal that it’s difficult to find enough substance abuse counselors who want to work in prisons.
Karen Hellman, division director of Inmate Programs & Reentry for the ADC, made a similar point at the state House Judiciary Committee in March. “I could not today treat everyone in the system who needed treatment immediately,” she said. “The need of the inmates is greater than our capacity to deliver.”
Dr. Josiah Rich, director of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, does not think Arizona’s new policy will be successful. “People don’t decide …‘Oh, I better not overdose today because I might have to pay money from my account for the treatment I’m going to need.’”
Dr. Kimberly Sue, who has hands-on experience working with incarcerated prisoners at Rikers Island, explained that those who use drugs while in jail may be stressed by multiple problems.
She said that incarcerated people, particularly those with underlying mental health or substance abuse issues, will often self-medicate because of the misery of prison,” The Appeal reported.