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Safety Matters: Crime doesn’t pay, except in New York state

BUFFALO — In my 40-plus-year career in law enforcement, I can’t remember a time in which some segments of society were more backward, particularly when it comes to inmate issues. Jails are supposed to be a deterrent, right? There aren’t many things more important than having our freedom taken away. Criminals should be treated humanely.

But, somewhere along the way, society, particularly New York state, crossed the line and began giving prisoners more perks and entitlements than our senior citizens, hardworking, law-abiding community members and self-sacrificing veterans.

Recently, state legislation was introduced, requiring inmates to pay a $7 copay for any medical or dental appointment that they made. Indigent prisoners would be exempt and no prisoner would ever have to pay for a psychiatric visit.

This co-pay would come from the prisoner’s commissary fund. Each inmate has this fund, to which family members contribute to or to which inmates’ earnings are posted. Inmates sometimes earn a small stipend from jobs they undertake, while incarcerated. The inmates may then purchase goodies or treats, such as candy bars, pretzels and more, from a commissary. If you have enough money for candy, then you should have to save some, for the dentist.

The whole idea behind this legislation is to cut down on the frivolous visits inmates make, to receive unnecessary or unwarranted medical care. During the past two years, Erie County taxpayers doled out approximately $20 million in medical and dental care for inmates. That’s a lot of taxpayer money being spent.

Why shouldn’t inmates have to pay a small co-pay for their care? The average inmate in Erie County has approximately $50, in his or her commissary account. If they have money to spend on goodies, then they should have money to spend toward their health care, right? I don’t know of many law-abiding citizens who don’t spend some type of out-of-pocket money on their own health or dental care.

I will never understand why inmates are treated better than our senior citizens, or why they are treated better than people who go to work, every day, or go to school and are working and sacrificing, to improve their lots in life. Why should these law-abiding citizens also be paying the entire cost for those who have no respect for others and who engage in criminal activity?

Approximately four years ago, a senior citizen asked me, “What was the lowest level of crime he could commit, in order to be sent to jail?” I thought he was kidding. He told me he was “half serious,” because he said if he went to jail for 30 days, he could get eyeglasses and a new hearing aid, for free. These were items his insurance company didn’t cover.

I don’t know whether this proposed legislation will ever get passed, in this state. But I do know this: Whoever said “crime doesn’t pay” sure didn’t live and work in New York state.

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