Committee Approves Cryan, Vitale & Stack Measures to Address Vital Health Care Needs of Inmates & Former Offenders
Trenton – Acting to address one of the most challenging barriers to the successful reentry into society of former offenders, a Senate committee today approved a series of bills focusing on the provision of medical care. Sponsored by Senator Joe Cryan, Senator Joe Vitale and Senator Brian Stack, the eight bills will help meet the health care needs of a medically complex population of patients before and after their release from incarceration.
“If we want to give former offenders a fair opportunity at a second chance, we have to help address the obstacles to their successful reentry into society,” said Senator Cryan, a former Union County Sherriff. “The absence of adequate medical care during their incarceration and after their release can have serious and costly consequences. There are effective actions we can take to provide basic health care services that prevent serious conditions, avoid more costly treatments and save lives.”
The bills would promote the use of Medicaid services, screen for hepatitis, provide for treatment for alcohol and drug dependency, and improve access to other basic needs after release, including housing, food, clothing, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, employment and education.
“Access to health care services during reentry is a significant problem for former offenders,” said Senator Vitale, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “Knowing where to go to continue care can be challenging and navigating the healthcare system is difficult. Doing all we can to make sure those eligible for Medicaid take advantage of the opportunity will make a real difference.”
Senator Vitale stressed the importance of pre-enrolling in Medicaid so the coverage takes effect when inmates are released, and the value of treatment for substance abuse disorders, including “medication assisted treatment,” which has proven to be highly effective.
“There is a high rate of hepatitis among the incarcerated population and up to two-thirds of those with the disease are unaware that they are infected – much less treated,” said Senator Stack, in reference to the bill that would provide for testing for hepatitis B and C. “The potentially fatal consequences of liver disease and liver failure can be averted if the disease is detected and treated.”
The bills are largely the product of recommendations from the 2019 New Jersey Reentry Services Commission Report entitled “Barriers, Best Practices, and Action Items for Improving Reentry Services.”
|Ø S-369 – Requires the DOC to ensure inmates have the opportunity to participate in Medicaid pre-enrollment and enrollment sessions at least 60 days prior to release; requires applicable inmates to receive Medicaid card at release. Although federal Medicaid law prohibits coverage to incarcerated individuals, they can be pre-enrolled with coverage to take effect upon the individual’s release from incarceration. (Cryan/Vitale)|
|Ø S-370 – Establishes “County Jail Rehabilitation and Re-Entry Program” to evaluate county inmate needs; assigns certain county caseworkers to assist inmates in accessing appropriate benefits, treatment and services. State prisons are required to complete applications for those eligible for Medicaid as they near release, but many are released without doing so. (Cryan/Vitale)|
|Ø S-371 – Requires DOC and DHS to pre-enroll inmates in Medicaid; establishes Medicaid enrollment course for inmates within DOC. The bill would establish a program to enroll inmates into Medicaid prior to their release and assist their access healthcare providers following their release. (Cryan/Vitale)|
|Ø S-374 – Requires each county to establish inmate reentry services committee. The committee in each county would identify services that may be needed by inmates upon release, including housing, food, medical care, clothing, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, employment, and education. (Cryan/Vitale)|
|Ø S-375 – Authorizes use of county inmate funds for reentry services. The funds include prison commissary, interest on savings, gifts from individuals, corporations and charitable foundations, and income from inmate trust fund. (Cryan/Vitale)|
|Ø S-527 – Requires state and county correctional facilities to offer inmates hepatitis B and hepatitis C screening. All inmates at state and county correctional facilities would be offered testing at the start of confinement, but it would not be required. (Vitale/Stack)|
|Ø S-528 – Requires DOC and county correctional facilities to provide inmates with medication-assisted treatment to address the fact that addiction treatment and recovery services are sorely lacking despite the clear need inside facilities. (Vitale/Cryan)
Ø S-877 – Requires State and county correctional facilities to develop strategic plans to provide peer counseling and peer health navigator programs to support treatment of substance use disorders. This bill would require the development of a strategic plan for peer counseling programs, which would include initiatives to provide incarcerated persons in the custody of the correctional institution with access to professional counseling services. (Cryan/Vitale)
All the bills were approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.