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Senator Peter J. Barnes III

TRENTONLegislation sponsored by Senator Peter J. Barnes that would expand eligibility of inmates for medical parole to include incarcerated individuals with a permanent physical incapacity was approved today by the full Senate.

The bill,S-3008, would expand the current law by requiring inmates who have a permanent physical incapacity to be eligible for release on medical parole. A “permanent physical incapacity” would be defined under the bill as a prognosis that an inmate has a medical condition that renders them permanently unable to perform daily basic living activities, results in the inmate requiring 24-hour care, and whose condition did not exist at the time of sentencing. Currently, an inmate may be released on medical parole if they have been evaluated by the New Jersey State Parole Board to have a diagnosed terminal illness or disease that makes them incapable of committing a crime.

“Everyone deserves the necessary care in their hour of need. Inmates who are no longer able to function in prison due to a permanent disability are no exception,” said Senator Barnes (D-Middlesex). “Just as individuals with terminal illnesses, inmates with a permanent disability should be permitted to get an evaluation for release based on their extreme health circumstances. Medical parole in these rare cases is an important step to ensuring the health of an individual who may not otherwise pose a threat to the community.”

The legislation would require that the same eligibility and conditions to provide a medical diagnosis on inmates who have terminal illnesses also apply to those with a permanent disability. The state parole board would also be required to state on the record the reasons for granting or denying medical parole for inmates suffering from a terminal condition, disease or syndrome or a permanent physical incapacity, according to the bill.

The bill would further require the parole board to ensure that any inmate who is an applicant for medical parole has the opportunity to apply for medical assistance benefits under the Medicaid program. Furthermore, the parole board would be required to make sure applicants are provided the necessary assistance to complete the application. Following the current law, applying for Medicaid would be done before any determination of ineligibility by the board when verifying appropriate medical services. The legislation would also prohibit an applicant to be denied from enrolling into the Medicaid program on the sole basis that he or she is an inmate at a correctional facility. If an inmate becomes enrolled in Medicaid while incarcerated, Medicaid payments would begin upon the inmate’s release from incarceration, according to the bill.

“All eligible individuals should have the opportunity to acquire Medicaid regardless of their criminal background,” added Senator Barnes. “Applicants seeking medical parole would have the ability under this bill to gain medical assistance through the program, providing inmates with easier access to services. This would ensure that individuals with a serious medical condition and who are on parole can get the help they need through proper coverage.”

A parolee may be returned to a correctional facility designated by the Commissioner of Corrections after the board determines that their medical condition is no longer debilitating or incapacitating. This criteria would also apply for individuals with a permanent physical incapacity who no longer pose a threat to public safety.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, other states have enacted legislation on eligibility requirements for inmates seeking medical parole. This includes California, Louisiana, and Rhode Island.

The bill was approved by a vote of 22-10 and passed the Assembly in June with a vote of 47-29. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

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