FOX10 News is committed to tracking your tax dollars. Our latest investigation shows millions of dollars are being poured into healthcare for criminals behind bars, across the state and here in the Port City. We're breaking down all of the shocking numbers.
Our investigation started with someone most people along the Gulf Coast recognize: Lam Luong. It's a name that sends chills down the spines of those who watched the horror unfold in 2008. He's one of the most notorious killers on Alabama's death row, convicted of throwing his four young children off the Dauphin Island Bridge more than ten years ago. Earlier this year, FOX10 News learned he had cataract surgery in prison, and, like some of our viewers, we wanted to know why.
When we dug deeper, we found some surprising numbers on exactly how much taxpayers are shelling out for thousands of inmates and prisoners healthcare.
A year after the horrific crime, Luong was convicted of five counts of capital murder, one for each child, and another count for them as a group. He was sent to Holman Prison, to be put on death row, and ordered by a judge to look at pictures of his children every day.
Since then, jail records show he's come back to Mobile only once for a post-trial hearing. That was in January, and we noticed something: an eye patch. We were told Luong had cataract surgery while in prison. Because of strict privacy laws, called HIPAA, FOX10 News can't know how much Luong's surgery cost, or why he needed it. The Alabama Department of Corrections Healthcare Commissioner, Ruth Naglich, also declined an interview to explain that.
According to allaboutvision.com, cataract surgery cost around $3,600-$6,000 per eye without insurance in 2017. So we looked into the ADOC's healthcare budget.
Last year, $134 million was spent on healthcare costs for about 22,000 prisoners. That's roughly $6,000 dollars per prisoner. Healthcare costs make up almost 30 percent of the ADOC's $460,200,691 million budget.
The department has this explanation for that:
"The Department's intent is to ensure that the inmates in the custody of ADOC have access to medical, dental, and mental health services and are housed in institutions that can provide for each inmate's specific health care needs." That includes: "...at a minimum, dental; pharmacy; inpatient and outpatient, medical and mental health; scheduled physician, psychiatric, diagnostic, dental and provider appointments five days a week, with urgent and emergency services provided on the weekends."
That's all taken care of by Wexford Health Sources, a company based out of Pittsburgh which also works with more than 100 other institutions across the country.
On another note, daily inmate cost, not involving healthcare, was at an all time high in 2017: $52.07 per inmate, up from $40 in 2007.
Because the ADOC didn't want to talk further with us, it's unclear how many state prisoners have received specialized procedures, like Lam Luong, who was first locked up in Mobile County Metro Jail to await his trial.
There…it's a revolving door of hundreds of inmates who are also racking up healthcare costs behind bars. One of them is murder suspect, Adam Miller, accused of killing 24-year-old Kelei Morris in 2015; another murder that shocked the Port City.
We interviewed Miller in Metro Jail. He has cystic fibrosis, a life threatening disorder that makes it hard to breathe.
"It's really hard for me to get out of bed, move around, it's hard to eat, to keep anything down, just real nauseous...can never breathe, always short of breath or on oxygen," said Miller.
He has been in jail more than a year, and has had to miss two court dates because of his condition, delaying trial. Twice, he's been taken to a local hospital, escorted by sheriff's deputies, for treatment. The last time he was there, he stayed for months.
"What do you do? Your health or your freedom, I gotta take my health first and get to that point when I get there. I can't be in court fighting if I'm sick...I could have died in here, if I was in the wrong place not getting the right attention and the right medicine and the things I need, I wouldn't have made it to have my day in court," explained Miller.
The right medicine, like his breathing machine, which sits next to his bed in his jail cell. Other medicine is delivered to him every day in his room in the jail's infirmary, a mini hospital that provides mental, medical, and dental care. That's where Jail Warden Trey Oliver says, inmates get quality healthcare, because it's a constitutional right.
"It's very costly, but, the burden is on us, as long as they're in our custody, we have to take good care of them...we don't care if they're in here for parking tickets, or for murder...because they're an inmate and every inmate here is afforded constitutional protections and that includes quality medical care," said Oliver.
And it takes millions to make that happen. $5 million of taxpayer money is spent each year on the jail's contract with NaphCare, a healthcare provider out of Birmingham. It's a three year contract, totaling about $15 million. But that bill racks up even more when sick inmates are booked throughout the year.
Like last year, 32 inmates cost an additional $380,465 because of their specific illnesses, that's an average of almost $12,000 for each one. We're told the most expensive inmate, cost $90,885 alone. In 2016, 12 inmates cost another $218,703, with the most expensive inmate costing $93,595. And in 2015, 26 sick inmates cost $141, 642, with the most expensive one totaling $38,300.
All in all, it costs $24 million a year to run metro jail, which houses an average of 1,000 inmates. At last check, about half of those inmates had chronic illnesses. Most of them, are on medications.
"We're spending the right amount of money for this amount of population of inmates that we have right now...if we were to not get someone the adequate medical attention they needed, we're subject to getting sued, and lawsuits…they may sue me personally as a warden but they sue the county commission and the sheriff's office. Well, where do you think that money would come from if a decision was rendered against us, that's taxpayer dollars. So it's either pay me now, or pay me later," said Oliver.
Inmates in metro jail are charged a $10 co-pay at the infirmary, like most of us are when we go to the doctor. However, some are unable to pay it, so, again, that burden falls on the taxpayer.
For state prisons, all of that money comes from the state general fund, which is approved by lawmakers. For more information on that, see the Alabama Department of Corrections 2017 full fiscal report:
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