Officials say medical costs for inmates rising

A rash of broken jaws and an aging prison population have driven up medical costs across the Nevada prison system, state correctional officials told a panel of lawmakers Friday.

Greg Cox, acting director of the Department of Corrections, and Deputy Director Jeff Mohlenkamp told an Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance subcommittee that they've seen a spike in inmate-on-inmate violence that resulted in injuries, including broken jaws. They were unable to say how many.

The topic came up as legislators sifted through the Department of Corrections budget requests for the next two years.

Besides emergency medical care for injuries, Cox said

The system is struggling with costs for prisoners between the ages of 60 and 65. For this age group, the department estimates costs hover around $4,000 a year, a significant difference from the estimated $1,000 per year it costs for inmates 30 and under.

From 2009 to 2010, information provided by the department showed total inmate medical costs jumped from roughly $11 million to $14 million.

Don Helling, deputy director for correctional programs, said aging population costs go beyond treating illnesses or conditions and include additional burdens like those linked with dietary restrictions, a need that translates into providing special food as well as supervision to ensure the right food gets to the right inmate.

Friday's budget discussion also addressed Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposal to shutter aging Nevada State Prison. Cox said High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs is particularly suited to taking on the displaced prisoners because it has two buildings ready to accept new inmates and offers modern facilities that would make monitoring inmate activity easier and more effective.

Cox also reiterated the much-trod over question of when the Legislature will decide whether or not it will close Nevada State Prison, parts of which date to the 1800s. Cox is pushing for a decision by sometime in April, claiming that the longer the decision is drawn out, the more likely it is that the number of required layoffs will increase.

The administration wants to phase out inmates and transfer correctional officers over several months, targeting full closure by the end of October. Officials said every month the prison remains open will cost $700,000.

E.K McDaniel, warden at Ely State Prison, urged lawmakers to install video equipment to monitor areas in which inmates gather at the maximum-security prison.

An employee, Steve Roundy, was assaulted at the prison on Monday and suffered serious head injuries, and McDaniel said cameras have been a need for a long time. The employee remains hospitalized in critical condition.

"We desperately need the video equipment," McDaniel said. "We've been needing it and have been asking for it in every budget cycle," he said, adding that during his 18-year career the request has been denied every time.


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