Alabama Sheriffs Admit Jails Release Sick and Dying Inmates to Get Out of Paying Hospital Fees

Sheriffs in Alabama have admitted using medical bonds to release sick and dying inmates from jail in order to avoid paying hefty hospital fees, according to a new report.

Speaking to ProPublica and AL.com, which recently published a joint investigation into the statewide issue, Lamar County Sheriff Hal Allred described how jails without medical staff seek medical bond to avoid getting "stuck" with hospital bills.

"We had a guy a couple of weeks ago with congestive heart failure...The judge let him make bond so the county didn't get stuck with that bill," Allred told ProPublica and AL.com in a March telephone interview.

"We don't have any medical staff in the jail. I wish we did, that would be great, but the way the county finances are, I won't live long enough to see it," he said.

According to the report, Allred is one of several sheriffs who admitted to engaging in the practice.

Local jails all over the country, ProPublica and AL.com report, have used medical bonds to release sick inmates for over two decades. However, in Alabama, the device is used far more often than elsewhere.

In the report's findings, which stem out of a year-long investigation by ProPublica and AL.com, journalists cited several cases, including that of a mentally ill man who died from flesh-eating bacteria just 15 days after being taken into custody at the Mobile County Metro Jail in 2000 and the case of a 19-year-old man who died of gangrene less than a month of being booked into the Madison County Jail.

In both cases, reporters said, officials denied wrongdoing, leaving relatives of the deceased to settle lawsuits accusing jails of providing poor health care contributing to the deaths.

According to the journalists behind the year-long investigation, medical bonds are typically used when an inmate awaiting trial is in a medical crisis.

Rather than the foot the bill for a costly hospital stay, a sheriff or jail worker might request that a judge release the inmate before they are taken to receive medical care.

Michael Jackson, the district attorney for Alabama's 4th Judicial Circuit, told the publication that he was aware of a number of recent cases in which inmates were also released on bond without a judge's approval.

Jackson said that in addition to it being concerning that sheriffs would release inmates over money, he was also concerned about the impact that decision might have on public safety.

"I'm not saying there should be no situation where an inmate can get released early, but it shouldn't be about money," Jackson said in a phone interview. "No one's watching them when they get out, and people might get robbed or their houses might get broken into."

It is unclear just how widespread the issue of jails using medical bonds to get out of paying hospital fees is in Alabama and across the U.S.

Newsweek has tried to contact Lamar County Sheriff Hal Allred for comment, while the Alabama Sheriffs Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.

Inmate
A 19-year-old inmate looks out of the window of the Young Offenders Institution attached to Norwich Prison on August 25, 2005. Sheriffs in Alabama have admitted to using medical bond to release inmates to avoid costly hospital fees.
Alabama Sheriffs Admit Jails Release Sick and Dying Inmates to Get Out of Paying Hospital Fees | U.S.