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Could Releasing More Prisoners Help Lower Costs?



Virginia is spending a growing amount on healthcare for inmates. That’s according to a report presented to lawmakers Tuesday. To help lower those costs, Virginia auditing staff recommends the state make it easier to release sick and elderly inmates.

During a committee meeting meeting in Richmond, staff from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission presented findings from their recent report on inmate health care costs.

Republican Senator Emmett Hanger seemed keen on the idea that Virginia relax its compassionate release policies.

“Mr. Chairman the irony to me seems to be we would be better off if we really wanted to punish these people we’d parole them out and let them struggle to gain access to health care like everybody else does,”  Hanger said during the hearing.

In a policy that’s more restrictive than most other states, Virginia allows patients with only three months left to live to petition for release. Plus it’s the only state that won’t even consider a petition from a seriously ill inmate.

“Virginia spends substantially more on healthcare for inmates with terminal illnesses or serious long term health conditions than it does on the rest of the inmate population,” said JLARC’s Jeff Lunardi.

Lunardi did note that while changing compassionate release policies will lower costs for the Department of Corrections, it’s likely to raise costs for other public programs like Medicaid or Medicare.


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.


Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.