California promises better care for thousands of inmates as they leave prison

California has agreed to improve health care for newly released disabled inmates, including through a series of measures that advocates say will help nearly anyone trying to transition from incarceration.

Lawyers representing inmates say adequate assistance during the transition from prison has long been lacking and can lead to homelessness. A recent study found that 1 in 5 Californians experiencing homelessness came from an institution such as prison or jail.

The state agreed in June to release inmates with a 60-day supply of their prescribed medications, up from the previous 30-day requirement, and promised to replace lost medical equipment within the first month of an inmate’s release from jail. Officials will also file applications for Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, on their behalf at least 90 days before discharge.

The settlement will benefit at least 11,000 people on probation who have physical, developmental or mental health disabilities, or nearly a third of the state’s 36,000 people on probation, lawyers for the inmates estimate. But many of the provisions will help most detainees be released, even those without a qualifying disability.

The improvements “should help close the revolving door between homelessness and incarceration that prevents too many people with disabilities from being successful on parole and reintegrating into the community,” said attorney Ben Bien-Kahn, a lead negotiator on behalf of the inmates. .

California corrections officials declined to comment.

The June settlement is the latest from a nearly 30-year class action lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates and inmates who are vision or hearing impaired or have motor, learning, mental or kidney disabilities. A federal judge found in 1996 that the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in its treatment of inmates and parolees.

Seven years ago, lawyers pushed the state to better plan work for the release of inmates with disabilities. They sent a letter of request to state officials two years ago that ultimately resulted in an agreement to change the state’s probation process for the disabled.

By moving to providing a 60-day supply of prescriptions, the state promises to double the amount of drugs it previously provided to inmates upon their release, which should be enough to cover inmates until their time goes into effect. Health cover. A federal bankruptcy trustee who oversees the state prison medical system made that change in February 2022, after previous negotiations with inmate lawyers, and it’s now written into the parole policy.

The state has agreed to release detainees with proper medical equipment, such as canes, wheelchairs and walkers, and has promised to replace lost or damaged equipment free of charge in the first month.

And the state will generally require that applications be filed for prisoners’ medical, Social Security and veterans benefits at least 90 days before their release, making delays less likely.

“Most people who are on probation and who are parole will end up benefiting,” Bien-Kahn said.

About 95% of parolees are eligible for Medi-Cal. According to a recent state report, about 17 percent of medical applications and 70 percent of Social Security applications were still pending when the inmates were released, leaving them at least temporarily without health insurance or income.

“The transition from prison to probation is fraught with dangers for all prisoners, but especially for those with disabilities,” reads the letter from the lawyers asking for better assistance.

Among the examples, he said an ex-offender was released without a wheelchair, walker and cane and without any help claiming Social Security or Medi-Cal benefits. He was left “at extreme risk of becoming homeless” after having to wait several months after his release before coverage began to receive hospital treatment for a neurological condition.

And Bien-Kahn said in an email that lawyers learned this June of a paraplegic with disability-related incontinence who became homeless after being released without any planning after more than four decades in prison.

Lawyers said both men were told there was no adequate transitional housing available for them, another area covered in the settlement. The letter of inquiry cited a study that found that “being released homeless or marginally housed puts ex-offenders in almost immediate risk of bankruptcy.”

To help address this issue, officials agreed to assess the disability, medical and mental health needs of each parolee, information that will be used to place them in transitional housing and provide community services. And state-funded transitional housing programs will be prevented from rejecting people on probation due to a disability.

Kaiser health newsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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