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No clear answer to rising costs of treating inmates

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The nation’s jails and prisons are designed to be a form of punishment. But that doesn’t mean those being held there should be denied basic care. Providing medical care to inmates is a huge drain on the budget, and as a result, many corners typically get cut. La Crosse County has recently increased funding for medical care for its prisoner, and increased its offering of mental health services. But that means more tax dollars. This is a growing problem across the country. The population of those incarcerated is aging rapidly, increasing medical needs. That has led to increased rates of diabetes and heart disease. It is estimated that prisoners make up 35% of the population, but account for 35% of the nation’s cases of Hepatitis C. Many states contract with private companies to provide medical care to those behind bars, but those are for-profit companies, creating an incentive to cut costs. Some prisoners with cancer are treated with little more than Tylenol. Not providing proper medical care can be costly in the long run, leading to lawsuits, some requiring settlements in the millions of dollars. Sometimes the facilities themselves are what are making inmates sick. A lawsuit has been filed by inmates at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, alleging they were repeatedly exposed to asbestos and mold. There are no easy answers here. Providing better care means more money. Not doing so can lead to expensive lawsuits. Perhaps we have to ask ourselves if we are ok with the status quo, or if we need to find a better system for making sure those behind bars get the treatments they need.

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