In the coming days, Illinois lawmakers will vote on a critical bill affecting the health and human rights of incarcerated individuals across the state. If enacted, HB 2045 would prevent the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the Department of Juvenile Justice from charging inmates prohibitive co-pay fees for medical care.
Across Illinois, individuals held in state prisons are routinely denied medical care as a result of prohibitive co-pay fees imposed by IDOC. While these nominal charges do little to offset the costs of prison healthcare, they prove successful in their actual design to deter the state’s disproportionately poor inmate population from accessing essential medical services. An incarcerated person earning the prison minimum wage of $0.09 an hour would need to work more than 55 hours to pay the $5 fee incurred for a single medical visit. As a result, inmates are regularly compelled to forgo both preventative and urgently needed medical attention.
IDOC’s burdensome medical copay fees impose devastating, often fatal consequences on incarcerated Illinoisans. An independent investigation recently filed in federal court in connection with an ongoing lawsuit over negligent prison health care found that nearly one in three prison deaths were medically preventable. Countless other critical health conditions could have been averted if inmates had adequate access to basic medical services.
Illinois’ prison system relies on prohibitive copay fees to stem the flow of patients into its underinvested medical system. The state currently has the second-lowest number of medical staff and spending per inmate in the nation. IDOC’s overburdened prison medical system is the direct consequence of the state’s prison overpopulation crisis. Propelled by decades of draconian law enforcement and sentencing practices, Illinois currently leads the nation in prison overpopulation, operating facilities at more than 140% of design capacity.
In order to protect the health and human rights of incarcerated Illinoisans, lawmakers must prohibit IDOC from charging fees for medical care, increase financial investment in inmate health care, and reverse the prison overpopulation crisis through retroactive sentencing reform.
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