Bill potentially lessening DOC population clears House

Staff Writer

A bill authorizing certain inmates to request a medical review in front of the Pardon and Parole Board passed Tuesday out of the House of Representatives with a vote of 73 to 16.

House Bill 1338 by state Rep. Greg Babinec permits an inmate who is 50 years of age or older and is medically frail to be considered for medical parole review. The inmate must be serving time for a nonviolent offense.

“The Legislature is fully aware of the prison crisis the state is currently facing,” said Babinec, R-Cushing. “This bill could alleviate the overcrowding the Department of Corrections is in the throes of while lessening the agency’s medical bills as well.”

Elderly inmates are often some of the most expensive to care for because of the medical conditions that come with increased age. For inmates between the ages of 50 and 69, the Department of Corrections spends an average of $1,353 per inmate every six months. This number climbs to a biannual cost of $7,879 per inmate who is above the age of 80.

“Criminologists have found time and time again that people age out of crime as they get older. A medically frail release policy is one that could save the state millions of dollars without endangering the public. I urge the Pardon and Parole Board to take medical frailty seriously and to keep in mind the age-to-crime ratio,” Babinec said.

The decision on early release will remain up to Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board.

DOC Director Joe Allbaugh praised the passage of the legislation, saying it was a step in the right direction for fixing the ailing prison system.

“I appreciate Rep. Greg Babinec putting forth a measure that will ease restrictions for inmates 50 or older, nonviolent and medically frail, to be considered for medical parole review,” Allbaugh said. “Inmates 55 and older represent the largest growing population in our system. It is inevitable as these inmates age, their housing and medical costs increase significantly.

“If passed by the Senate, signed into law by the governor and acted upon by the pardon and parole board, this bill has potential to ease medical costs and create bed space in our system.”

House Bill 1338 now proceeds to the Senate for consideration, where Sen. Tom Duggar, R-Stillwater, is the author.

Babinec represents House District 33, which includes portions of Logan and Payne counties.

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