Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire recently shared with a Houston news outlet the list of Texas prison inmates who are incurring the highest health care costs, 100 percent of which are borne by Texas taxpayers. It showed that last year the costliest inmate racked up more than $330,000 in health care costs. All of the top ten costliest inmates racked up well over $130,000 in costs.

There are over 4,200 inmates age 61 or older in Texas state lockups and 200 inmates are crippled, mostly paraplegics and multiple-limb amputees. According to the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, although older inmates (defined as 55 or above) comprise only 6.4 percent of the prison population, they account for 27.2 percent of hospital costs

new national study documents the growing number of older inmates and the high costs of incarcerating them, as well as the wealth of empirical research showing that older offenders have much lower recidivism rates. Let’s be clear. Inmates should not automatically be released because they are geriatric. However, in prioritizing limited prison space to maximize public safety and making informed parole decisions, it only makes sense to consider age as one of the factors that affects the risk level an offender presents. National research has shown that inmates over 60 have a 3.8% recidivism rate and those over 55 have a recidivism rate of between 2%and 8%. The overall recidivism rate is exponentially higher. Moreover, by carefully reviewing each case in a discretionary parole process, many of the few elderly inmates who still pose a risk can be identified and kept behind bars.

Texas policymakers should study options such as a parole nursing home and house arrest with GPS that could offer less costly options and, at the same time, ensure public safety. Ultimately, Texas must be both tough and smart when it comes to achieving the greatest reduction in crime with every taxpayer dollar spent.

This blog post has also been published at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Speaking Freely blog.