Erie County District Attorney

10/22/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/22/2019 09:48

Erie County DA Flynn Participates in National Joint Task Force Meeting and Capitol Hill Advocacy Day on Inmate Health Care and Recidivism

WASHINGTON - Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn joined fellow county leaders from across the country for a meeting of the National Association of Counties (NACo) and National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) joint task force to reduce jail inmate recidivism through continuity of health care services and advocacy day on Capitol Hill October 8-10.

The task force, made up of NACo and NSA members representing law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, behavioral health and veterans' services, will explore the impacts of the national mental and behavioral health crisis and the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy (MIEP), which strips federal health and veterans benefits from individuals upon admission to jail - not upon conviction - forcing counties to incur the costs of inmate health care and leading to increased recidivism.

Task force members shared stories and promising practices on pre-trial jail populations, jail health care, services provided and recommendations for local governments to work with law enforcement to ensure better health outcomes in the local justice system, reduce recidivism and build community capacity to support a continuum of care. DA Flynn met with representatives from the offices of Senator Debbie Stabenow, Senator Gary Peters, and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell from Michigan.

'I am deeply concerned about stripping health care benefits from veterans who have fought for and served our country before they have been convicted of any crime,' said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. 'Anyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty in this country, and our veterans should be able to retain those benefits until the conclusion of their case.'

'Stripping federal health benefits from those jailed but not convicted and who are presumed innocent is a violation of their constitutional rights and places an enormous financial burden on counties and local taxpayers,' said NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase. 'By providing access to health care benefits to those most in need, counties can help break the cycle of recidivism exacerbated by untreated physical and mental illnesses and substance use disorders.'

Members of the task force, which was formed earlier this year, are exploring the impacts of existing federal policies on recidivism and health outcomes of local jail inmates. The primary focus is on those individuals suffering from mental health, substance abuse and/or other chronic health illnesses.

An issue plaguing Sheriffs and their jails throughout the United States is that of the increasing number of inmates with substance abuse, mental illness, and co-occurring disorders. Due to the lack of community resources, the jails have become the de-facto mental health hospitals and treatment facilities and have assumed the liability as well. Across the nation, there is growing reliance on local jails to serve as 'one-stop' treatment centers for these afflictions. Under current law, those who can afford bail keep their health care while those unable to pay - who are most susceptible to illness - face a gap in coverage. Research shows gaps in coverage lead to higher rates of recidivism resulting in over-incarceration.

The double standard created by MIEP is putting undue strain on our local judicial, law enforcement, public safety and human services systems leading to increased health care costs and poorer health outcomes. Having access to federal health benefits for non-convicted individuals would allow for improved coordination of care, while decreasing short-term costs to local taxpayers and long-term costs to the federal government.

The suspension of federal benefits for pre-trial detainees not only triggers constitutional challenges but also unjustly increases the fiscal impact on the Sheriff/County to now pay for needed medical and mental health care, that but for their incarceration, the federal government would cover. These monies, if reinstated, would increase the Sheriffs' ability to provide additional programming and resources to the inmates and allow for a smoother transition into the community for the inmate without a lapse in benefits and medical care being received. The inequities must stop. A change must happen.