For Immediate Release
Contact: Maureen McNulty Saxton
Organization: Citizens Research Council of Michigan
Phone: o: 517.485.9444; m: 517.899.5513
Date: September 7, 2023
The Lack of Data Impedes Cost-Effective Health Care in Michigan Prisons
Livonia, MI – In recent years, Michigan prisons spent approximately $300 million per year – roughly two percent of all General Fund dollars – to provide health care for more than 30,000 prisoners. The average per-prisoner cost of health care has increased dramatically – 34 percent – over the last two decades, even after adjusting for inflation. The increase is particularly stark in recent years.
The Citizens Research Council of Michigan sought to understand the reasons behind the increase by breaking down the primary drivers of the costs, which requires a great deal of analysis into extensive data about prisoner health care.
In a report released today, the Research Council reveals it could not achieve that original research mission because that data is largely unavailable to the public. While the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) tracks raw data, it is only required to provide high-level data to the public and is not required to provide sufficiently detailed reports to the Legislature.
In a nutshell, the report findings include:
- Providing health care to prisoners is a costly endeavor, yet the state does not adequately assess whether it meets its legal obligations to prisoners in the most cost-effective way.
- Improving quality of care and maximizing cost-effectiveness of the prison health care system requires a significant amount of data to identify and understand potential cost drivers.
- Since every resident in Michigan has a stake in the quality and efficiency of the prison health care system, the state should ensure that the relevant data regarding prisoner health and spending be made available to policymakers and the public.
“The state has an obligation to operate prisons in a manner that meets the basic needs of prisoners,” said Eric Lupher, President of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. “But it also has a duty to maximize health care quality and efficiency for the benefit of prisoners and the public.
“At a cost of nearly $300 million, coming almost solely from the taxpayer-funded general fund, prisoner health care is a big-ticket item that demands greater scrutiny and study. That effort starts with gathering, synthesizing, and releasing much more granular data than the department currently offers.
“Right now, it is impossible to analyze why per prisoner health care costs are rising. Without that kind of study, targeted steps cannot be taken to rein in growing costs. MDOC should welcome this effort, which helps inform future spending, but if it does not, the legislature should mandate it.”
Lupher noted that while prisoner health care spending is likely not at the top of anyone’s agenda in Lansing, transparency should be. “Peeling back the curtain on this big-ticket spending item would be of interest to all who care about public accountability, government efficiency and legislative oversight,” he said.
The report notes that the prison population is one of the more understudied societal groups, yet the state and the public maintain a substantial and often unrecognized stake in the well-being of prisoners.
The state has dual responsibilities of providing state and federal constitutional legal protections to prisoners under its care while also being good stewards of public resources and using taxpayer funds efficiently and wisely.
The report recommends that the state invest the time and resources into packaging the granular data needed to adequately access prisoner spending and make the data available so that everyone – from the Legislature to the public – can better determine if the state and department are meeting those dual responsibilities.
Read the Report. Paper copies are available upon request.
Founded in 1916, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan works to improve government in Michigan. The organization provides factual, unbiased, independent information concerning significant issues of state and local government organization, policy, and finance. By delivery of this information to policymakers and citizens, the Research Council aims to ensure sound and rational public policy formation in Michigan. For more information, visit www.crcmich.org