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OUR OPINION: Jail prisoners liable for medical costs

OUR OPINION: Jail prisoners liable for medical costs

December 7th, 2010 in News

A county jail is not an inn, a restaurant or a health clinic.

During incarceration, a jail is required to shelter and feed prisoners. But it is not obligated to pay medical expenses.

Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman recently filed a lawsuit against a prisoner for failing to reimburse the county for medical treatment.

"As the sheriff I am required by law to allow medical treatment to inmates who are in my custody, however, I am not liable to pay for treatment," Heitman said.

State law appear to support his position.

One statute reads: "If any prisoner confined in the county jail is sick and, in the judgment of the jailer, requires the attention of a physician, dental care or medicine, the jailer shall procure the ... attention necessary or proper to maintain the health of the prisoner." The statute references health insurance benefits, and adds, "if the prisoner is not eligible for such benefits, then the prisoner shall be liable for the payment of their care and the assets of the prisoner may be subject to levy and execution under court order to satisfy such expenses."

Other area sheriffs also are monitoring medical expenses linked to incarceration.

Callaway County Sheriff Dennis Crane said, "if an injury occurs in our jail, we pay for the care. But if they have something before they get here, that's on them."

Cole County Sheriff Greg White said medical expenses for prisoners are "not a severe problem," and added, "a lot of people that we take in are indigent, so there's nothing to recoup from them."

We believe the sheriffs have taken the proper approach.

Medical costs for prisoners deserve to be scrutinized.

And sheriffs are obligated to provide, but not pay for, medical treatment not associated with incarceration.

Prisoners deserve basic accommodations during incarceration. But sheriffs are not operating and taxpayers are not financing deluxe resorts.