HB 5104 would hinder state in subcontracting for medical care for IDOC inmates

HB 5104 would hinder state in subcontracting for medical care for IDOC inmates

A bill that has been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner would hamstring the state in subcontracting for medical services for inmates of the Illinois Department of Corrections, compromising the state’s ability to provide the best, most cost-effective care.

Illinois may have achieved a stopgap budget for now, but the state’s financial woes are far from over. That budget keeps the state afloat only for six months. The state still has the nation’s worst credit rating. And the state’s unpaid bills have surpassed $7.7 billion. If ever Illinois needed flexibility to efficiently manage state affairs and cut excessive government costs, the time is now.

But a bill is currently sitting on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk that could actually force the state to pay for medical employees in the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC, who are no longer needed. Worse, the measure could also keep the state’s prison inmates from getting the best care at the most affordable price to taxpayers.

Rauner should veto House Bill 5104, and the General Assembly should let the veto stand. In fact, the bill passed the Illinois House of Representatives by a vote of 65 to 37, and even some of those lawmakers who originally voted for passage may not want to stand by the bill once its implications are understood.

Specifically, HB 5104 amends state law related to IDOC. As shown in the text of the bill below, it prohibits IDOC from subcontracting mental health or medical services if the effect would be to decrease the number of IDOC workers below the number of those employed as of Jan. 1, 2016.

This means that the number of medical employees at IDOC cannot go below a certain level if the work they do is contracted out. This would be the case even if the prison population declines.

In 2015, Rauner issued an executive order creating the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. One of the main goals of that commission is to develop strategies to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025.

If the commission is successful, and Illinois reduces its prison population by 2025, HB 5104 would not allow IDOC to reduce the number of workers below the number employed on Jan. 1, 2016, if part of their work is contracted out. Taxpayers would be locked into paying for state workers whose services are no longer necessary. Inhibiting IDOC’s managerial flexibility in engaging subcontractors and maintaining a proper workforce-to-prisoner ratio undermines the state’s ability to rein in costs.

What’s more, HB 5104 may actually impede the state’s provision of mental health services to inmates. Back in 2007, a group of mentally ill prisoners filed a lawsuit against the IDOC, claiming that the state did not adequately provide mental health services to mentally ill adult offenders. According to a December 2015 statement by IDOC, Rauner’s commitment to improving the state’s correctional system put the case on a fast track. The parties reached a settlement agreement in December 2015, which was approved by the court in May 2016.

As part of that settlement agreement, IDOC agreed to update its screening, evaluation and treatment policies. It also identified necessary staffing and agreed to construct four residential treatment units. To those ends, the state has requested proposals, or bids, from vendors to help implement a comprehensive program of medical and mental health services for offenders within the state’s correctional centers. In streamlining its provision of mental health services to inmates, the state will be able to provide better care. But HB 5104 limits the state’s ability to subcontract medical and mental health services if the result would be to reduce the number of IDOC employees below a certain level.

The state’s request for proposals also demonstrates that opposing HB 5104 is not about being pro- or anti-union. Some of the potential vendors themselves are unionized – and they, too, would be negatively affected by HB 5104.

By placing limits on the state’s ability to subcontract mental health and other medical services, HB 5104 could impede the state’s progress in fulfilling its legal obligations – and at the same time inhibit prisoners from getting the best care at the most affordable cost.

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