Jails Face High Health Costs for Inmates

inmate billGRANTS PASS, Ore. — Local jails already facing budget problems are now dealing with the high cost of health care for inmates. Jail officials say a single inmate can cost a county tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

On Wednesday, Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson pulled three heavy files from his desk, dropping each with a loud thud on his desk. Each folder showed the medical costs for individual inmates in the jail. One was as high as $75,000. Gilbertson said county taxpayers have to pay for all of it.

When an inmate is booked into the jail, they are entitled to medical care, but private insurance companies can choose to stop coverage for a customer who is arrested. As a result, county jails have to foot the bill when it comes to anything from broken bones to medication.

Gilbertson said he’s seen criminals treat the jail like a free hospital.

“I’ve seen people that have needed medical attention intentionally get arrested to come here and get medical treatment,” he said.

A bill being worked through the Oregon legislature would prevent private insurers from dropping coverage to someone who has been arrested. Gilbertson said he supports it. House Bill 4110 was introduced into the Oregon House, but it has not been voted on.

The Josephine County Jail has a pay-to-stay system, which means when an inmate is convicted of a crime, they are sent a bill for being in the jail. If the convicted inmate pays within 30 days, the bill is cut in half. But because of budget cuts eliminating jail beds, many inmates get cited and released. If that suspect never appears in court and is never convicted, that bill never gets paid.