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Study shows Oklahoma spends least in nation on prisoner health care

A study released Tuesday shows Oklahoma spends less per-inmate on medical costs, however, the study also showed how the state’s increasing population of older inmates and the state’s option to not expand Medicaid could lead to increased medical costs in the future.
by Graham Lee Brewer Published: July 8, 2014

Oklahoma ranked in last place in the country for state spending on prison health care over a recent five-year period, a study released Tuesday found.

The study, done by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, analyzed health care costs in state prisons from 2007 to 2011. It showed that not only did Oklahoma spend less than any other state on health care per inmate in 2011 — $2,558 — but that number is a 17 percent reduction from 2007.

An increase in aging prisoners and the prevalence of chronic diseases, mental illness and substance-use disorders were among key factors for increasing prison health care costs cited in the study.

According to the study, from 2007 to 2011, the number of inmates age 55 or older in Oklahoma increased from 6.6 percent to nearly 8 percent of the total prison population. In 2014, those inmates represent 8.5 percent of Oklahoma’s prison population, state Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said.

One third of Oklahoma inmates require mental health treatment, and more inmates are serving time on drug possession or distribution charges than any other type of crime, he said.

Aging inmates

In an effort to combat high levels of violence at the Oklahoma State Reformatory in 2012, Corrections Department officials decided to remove any offender younger than the age of 40 from the prison, a state facility in Granite that houses close to 1,000 medium- and minimum-security inmates. While violence rates plummeted in the following year, the total number of medical visits more than doubled.

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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch, where he covered areas such as immigration and drug addiction, he went...
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