Texas prisons are filling up with elderly and sick people at an alarming rate. And it’s costing the state a bundle.
One prisoner, 80-year-old Benito Alonzo, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The Henry Kissinger look alike is also undergoing treatments for cirrhosis of the liver and Hepatitis C. Dick J. Reavis of the Texas Observer interviews Alonzo about how he feels about being incarcerated at such an old age and in poor health.
Alonzo, an inmate at the Polenski Unit, is just one of several dozen elderly state wards who need medical care. He says his liver is in bad shape, and he’s been waiting since March on the new liver drug lactulose since 2015. “The drug can help extend the lives of patients facing liver failure,” according to Texas Penal System Medical Chief Dr. Owen Murray. Since the TDOJ has to pick up the $94,000 cost for a 12-week regimen, Alonzo says they will likely stall until he is near death.
Of the 148,000 prisoners being held in Texas prisons, about 27,000 are inmates over 50. Texas prisoners are housed at the cost of $20,000 per year. The cost for elderly prisoners rises to $30,000 or more. “Most of the elderly inmates have special needs,” said TDOJ spokesperson Robert Hurst.
Many of the elderly are considered a drain on the system. Many are not getting the required treatments because of the cost. Some are released after several years, but by the time they are paroled, the damage is already done.