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Report: Prison health-care costs stabilize

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Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - States are spending slightly less on prisoner health care after nearly a decade of steady increases, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that in most states, prison health care spending peaked at $8.2 billion in 2009 after nearly a decade of dramatic increases. But by 2011 that total had dropped slightly to $7.7 billion, partly because prison populations decreased.

"How states manage health care in prisons affects not only inmates' well-being but also public safety and taxpayers' total corrections bill," said Maria Schiff, director of the Pew project.

Schiff said the researchers identified four ways the states could further reduce those costs, including Medicaid expansion, strategic use of telehealth services, effective management of private health care contracts and granting elderly or infirm inmates early parole when appropriate.

The peak spending in 2009 followed a multi-decade trend during which the number of inmates in state prisons grew dramatically, Schiff noted. But as many states have begun to review and modify their sentencing policies, the number of people in prisons has dropped nationwide, she said.

"Higher spending is not necessarily an indication of waste, and lower spending is not necessarily a sign of efficiency," Schiff cautioned. Some states are spending more per inmate despite the nationwide decrease in total spending.

Idaho, Montana and Oregon were all among the states that saw per-inmate spending increase between 2007 and 2011. Montana per-inmate spending increased 37 percent - from about $6,100 to about $8,400 per inmate in inflation-adjusted dollars - and Oregon spending increased about 21 percent to about $7,300. In Idaho, per-inmate spending grew about 8 percent during the same period, reaching nearly $4,900 per inmate in fiscal year 2011, according to the report.

California saw the largest per-inmate increase at 42 percent, according to the report, with per-inmate costs climbing from about $10,200 to nearly $14,500.

Arizona, meanwhile, had the largest percentage decrease in per-inmate spending, dropping about 20 percent from just over $4,000 in 2007 to about $3,200 in 2011.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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