Texas Prisoners Get Better Health Care Than Some Law Abiding Citizens - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/14/07

Texas Prisoners Get Better Health Care Than Some Law Abiding Citizens

Judge Cynthia Kent says in her two decades on the bench, she's seen countless cases involving older criminals. She says longer sentences are the reason the elderly population is growing so fast in Texas jails.

"In the 80's, people were getting paroled out very quickly. We had a change in the law, because as they paroled out quickly they went out and victimized society. The public was fed up with it.  They said, 'No. Lock these people up that are victimizing us and keep them there," says Judge Kent.

Sheriff J.B. Smith says another reason for the growth is that some types of crimes are more commonly reported now.

"I'm seeing more sex offenders over the age of 55 that are being prosecuted and sent to prison, but I think that one of the big reasons for that is that children are reporting it more," says Sheriff Smith.

Regardless of the reason, the elderly prison population is in fact growing, and their medical care costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year. It's money Kay Odom says could be spent on improving the health care available to the seniors she sees everyday.

"To me, it doesn't seem fair. You know, you and I are paying for those programs, and that's just like all prisoners that are in there. They get education. They get great health care, and the people who are law abiding citizens who are here, they're struggling," says Kay.

As the supervisor at the Senior Citizens Center in Tyler, Kay works hard making sure seniors are aware of the help that is out there if they are struggling to get their medical needs met.

"A lot of them have problems with their prescriptions.  Their budget that they're living on, especially if they're living on Social Security, presents a real problem for them, because they're meds are so expensive," says Kay.

Those in the judicial system say denying access to quality health care for prisoners is simply not an option. Judge Kent says seeing these criminals serve their time is a fundamental part of the the justice system, even when they're too old and feeble to be a threat to society.

"Did that person kill someone, and is justice to say, 'Well, now that you're old, and you're not going to hurt someone, we're going to let you out?' The person that he killed is dead and in the grave and is never coming back," says Judge Kent.

As a sheriff, it's J.B. Smith's job to make sure his inmates receive the mandatory level of care, but he recognizes the injustice of seniors in his community going with out the health care afforded to the criminals he works so hard to put away.

"It's sad to see some of the benefits that these prisoners have compared to some of our people in society that are law abiding that really do need it," says Smith.

Lindsay Wilcox/Reporting: lwilcox@kltv.com

 

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