Los Angeles County Jails To Charge Inmates for Some Nurse Visits
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials on Wednesday announced that the county jail system will begin charging prisoners $3 for each visit to a nurse that does not result in a referral to a physician, the Los Angeles Times reports. The fee will apply to visits to nursing clinics that are being established in county jails as part of a restructuring of the prison health care system.
The fee will be charged to prisoners whose conditions can be treated with nonprescription medications that are sold in county jails, officials said. Indigent inmates and those with serious illnesses will not be charged.
The fees will be deducted from a trust account that each inmate receives when booked at a county jail. The accounts, which can be supplemented with money from friends and relatives, are used to buy personal items and snacks from the jail commissaries and vending machines.
State law allows county sheriffs to charge as much as $3 for medical services, provided that no inmates are denied health care services for financial reasons.
The charges are part of a larger restructuring of the way county jails handle medical care for inmates whose conditions are not life-threatening.
As part of the effort, the department plans to open nursing clinics in each of the county's six jails over the next three years, according to Marc Klugman, who heads the department's Correctional Services Division.
The new system was introduced 18 months ago in the women's portion of the Twin Towers correctional facility, and a clinic is expected to open at Men's Central Jail in the next two months.
Department officials said that fees are expected to generate as much as $2 million annually but that the revenue will "fall far short of covering the additional expenses" of operating the nursing clinics, the Times reports.
According to the Times, "scores" of major U.S. jail systems charge for medical visits, "partly to help meet escalating costs of jailhouse medical care and partly to reduce the number of visits considered frivolous." For example, San Diego County has charged county jail inmates for medical services since 1995.
Orange County is considering a similar program for its jails (Leonard, Los Angeles Times, 7/7).