Philadelphia lawmaker pushes for permanent Pennsylvania prison suspension – NBC10 Philadelphia
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The Pennsylvania Department of Prisons is indefinitely suspending a $ 5 co-payment billed to prisoners seeking medical care, but a West Philadelphia lawmaker hopes to make the change permanent.
Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced the indefinite suspension on Wednesday, citing reports that inmates were not reporting symptoms of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic for fear of not being able to pay the fees. Now Democratic state representative Amen Brown, who worked with Wetzel and pushed him into suspension, is drafting legislation to get rid of the quota for good.
Brown said the $ 5 co-payment may not seem like a lot to people outside the prison, but it does add up, especially when you consider inmates’ low wages and other expenses. like those for hygiene products and food purchased by the prison commissioner.
“These are simple calculations. If an incarcerated person has a job while incarcerated, the hourly rate is 42 cents an hour, and they may only work four to six hours a day. So at the end of the month, if you’re operating on a budget of $ 30… $ 5 is a lot, ”Brown said.
At a House appropriations hearing in February, Wetzel said the practice of charging copays began in the 1990s to try to prevent inmates from seeking “frivolous” medical care. He added that the DOC waived the charges during the pandemic, which, according to state data, has infected more than 11,000 inmates and killed 138 of the more than 37,000 inmates in state prisons.
Currently, 38 states accuse detainees of seeing a doctor, according to Project Marshall.
Tonya Skief, whose 52-year-old son Terrell Carter was jailed for 30 years at SCI Phoenix in Montgomery County on a life sentence for murder, said the co-payment could wreak havoc. Although Carter has always had the support of his family and earns an income as a published author, there are times when he even needs the money for medical care, Skief said.
“It’s heartbreaking for me to see that he is in pain and sometimes can’t get the attention he needs,” Skief said.
Skief, who is retired and has a fixed income, said in these cases she has to cut certain things in order to have enough money to send to her son.
“The onus is on me to make a decision: what can I do without making sure he has what he needs?” she said.
She added that while the cost is not too onerous for her, there are people in worse financial situations who must choose between paying a bill or sending money to their loved one.
Brown, who said he first learned of the prison copays through friends and family who had been incarcerated while growing up in West Philly, echoed the sentiment.
“We all know what a tough time we are right now. So if my working hours are cut at work, my typical budget is cut in half, which is what I’m usually able to do for that incarcerated family member, I can’t do it anymore. So that puts families in a difficult position, ”said Brown.
While inmates who cannot afford the $ 5 can still receive medical treatment, their prison accounts end up in a negative balance when they do. Skief said his son had spoken to inmates who were injured but chose to “suffer in silence” in their cell because they fear the co-payment and fear that asking for a wheelchair to bring them to the infirmary would only add to the costs.
When an inmate’s account has a negative balance, the money people send them goes to pay for the cost of their care and not necessarily the extra memory items that the money may have been originally intended for, Brown said.
This, the representative noted, can have a negative impact on the mental well-being of an inmate.
“Waking up knowing that you have a negative balance because you went to the infirmary for some reason, and then you have to worry that family members cannot help you when they are doing their best,” you know, it can really have a negative impact on you mentally, ”he said.
Now the freshman is drafting legislation that would make the current quota suspension permanent, but he’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans in the legislature, to make it happen.
Skief said that if inmates like her son made mistakes, they should not be seen as “not really being human”. Instead, she said, people should support the elimination of medical copayments and see it as a moral obligation, because anyone can get caught up in the criminal justice system.
“It happened to me. It can happen to you. It can happen to anyone, so where is your compassion? Skief asked.