Lawmakers look at medically paroling inmates


Soaring prison costs have taken a toll on California's budget. The state now spends more on prisons than on higher education. It is a target now to lower health care costs especially at state prison hospitals.

The California Prison Medical Facility cares for chronically ill inmates -- some are dying.

Fred Gusta, who is serving time for grand theft auto and kidnapping, has congestive heart failure and has six months to live.

"I just want to go home to my family and be with them and die in peace," says Gusta.

In a move to save taxpayers about $350 million a year in prison health care costs, Democrats introduced a series of bills that include medical parole, to bring down expenses for the state's sickest inmates.

About 600 of them cost taxpayers $135 million a year for outside care. By giving them parole, they can be moved to other hospitals and the feds would pick up the tab. The proposals have the backing of the federal receiver, who's in charge of improving prison health care to Constitutional standards.

"If a frustrated public has told us all anything in recent years is that they want us to do a prison health care in a way that gives taxpayers relief from high costs," says federal receiver Clark Kelso.

Medical parole would not apply to those sentenced to death, life without parole or for their third strike. It will mostly apply to those incapacitated. Republicans are reluctant to support the package.

"We have examples of people who have been in wheelchairs who have molested kids. That's not good enough for us. Our role is public safety," says St. Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster.

Gary Rubenstein is a three-striker and dying of lung cancer. While the Los Angeles County man would not be eligible for medical release under this proposal, he says a lot dying inmates can barely move.

"I can't imagine them doing another crime if you have trouble walking from your bed to the bathroom. Committing another crime is pretty hard to do," says Rubenstein.

"Do you still have strength and ability to commit a crime if you're paroled?" asks ABC7's Nannette Miranda.

"Anybody does. If you can walk, you can commit a crime," says Gusta.

"That's why people don't want to let you out," says Miranda.

"I guess so," says Gusta.

Right now, dying inmates can apply for compassionate release, but Republicans say that isn't a good enough system. However, last year, it was only granted twice.

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