General Assembly passes SB 19, which would hinder care for IDOC inmates and saddle taxpayers with unnecessary costs

General Assembly passes SB 19, which would hinder care for IDOC inmates and saddle taxpayers with unnecessary costs

Senate Bill 19 could prevent the state from providing the best, most cost-effective medical services for inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, and it forces the state to pay for employees that may not be necessary.

A bill recently enacted by the General Assembly could compromise the state’s ability to provide the best, most cost-effective medical services for inmates of the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC. The bill now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner. If enacted, it could hurt both inmates and taxpayers.

Senate Bill 19 adds two prohibitions to state law related to IDOC:

  • IDOC cannot subcontract medical or health services if the effect would be to decrease the number of IDOC workers below the number of those employed as of Jan. 1, 2016.
  • IDOC cannot decrease the number of medical or health services workers below the number of those employed as of Jan. 1, 2016, even if the prison population drops.

But SB 19 doesn’t take into consideration what is best for inmates. And it certainly doesn’t benefit the taxpayers. It also runs counter to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal of reducing the state’s prison population 25 percent by 2025.

Even if Illinois is successful in reducing its prison population by 2025, SB 19 will prevent the state from reducing the number of workers below the number employed on Jan. 1, 2016. Taxpayers would be locked into paying for state workers whose services are no longer necessary.

After passing in the Senate with a vote of 40-15, SB 19 moved to the House of Representatives. The House passed the bill on Apr. 6 with a vote of 68-42.

SB 19 inhibits care for inmates

SB 19 could impede the state’s provision of health services to inmates by limiting the options available for care.

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 the court approved 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 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 SB 19 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 demonstrates that opposing SB 19 is not about being pro- or anti-union. Some of the potential vendors themselves are unionized – and SB 19 would negatively affect them, too.

By placing limits on the state’s ability to subcontract mental health and other medical services, SB 19 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.

SB 19 is bad for taxpayers

SB 19 forces the state to maintain certain staffing levels, even if the prison population drops. In other words, SB 19 would force the state to pay for medical employees in IDOC even if they are no longer needed.

This means the number of medical employees at IDOC cannot go below a certain level even if the prison population declines.

In fact, the language in SB 19 is so broad that even if Illinois’ prison population dropped to zero, staffing would have to remain at 2016 levels.

Inhibiting IDOC’s managerial flexibility in maintaining a proper workforce-to-prisoner ratio undermines the state’s ability to rein in costs.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!