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PRISONERS NEED BETTER HEALTH CARE
Prison health care is a powder keg that will soon explode ("Prison health care still bad," Nov. 5). As a volunteer in our state's prisons, I can tell you that the number one complaint I received while in conversation with offenders was the woeful lack of adequate health care. Countless documented stories abound of offenders' health care concerns not being taken seriously. One death is one too many.
This is not new. In 1976, JW Gamble filed a handwritten brief pro se detailing what he felt was a lack of adequate health care in the Texas prison system. That crucial Supreme Court case set the standard for countless Eighth Amendment cases to be filed by offenders.
The privatization of prison health care was a terrible idea from the start as it fails to actually protect offenders. I absolutely agree with the idea of prison health care being administered by a university or nonprofit entity.
It's a tough sell, as offenders are relegated to forgotten population status – a designation that ultimately places them among the most vulnerable of our population. We mustn't forget that even offenders are human beings and should be treated as such. They are paying their so-called debts to society.
We owe them something, too – adequate, competent health care.
STATE NEEDS BETTER BUDGET
Now that voters have rejected the Fair Tax Amendment and Governor JB Pritzker has warned of painful spending cuts, I think it's time to look at some structural changes that could help.
Tax reform is definitely needed. Sales taxes were created in the 1930s and the income tax was started in the 1960s. The state's economy is now infinitely different than it was in either of these decades. However, our tax structure has not been adjusted to reflect this. One way to address this is to create a commission of economists, tax attorneys, CPAs, businesses and labor to look at the overall tax structure of the state and recommend changes to get state revenue in line with today's economy. If our tax structure were properly aligned, the tax burden may be lower and spending pressures lessened. The commission should be set up like Congress' effort to close unnecessary military bases whereby they had to either accept the entire recommended list of closures or none of them. That put pressure on them to act responsibly for the benefit of all, rather than select special interests.
Pension reform is also needed. The Illinois Constitution limits what can be done with people currently in the system, and changes have already been made for future retirees. An immediate fix would be to re-amortize the payback schedule. If the state would lengthen the payback period it could take a lot of pressure off funding current services, which would lessen the need for tax increases. The total cost may be higher, but it will be spread out over decades and will decrease the negative side effects of being unable to pay for infrastructure, education, public health and other services we need now and every year.
When people talk about reform, eliminating fraud, waste and abuse is one of the first reforms mentioned, although specific recommendations of what to eliminate seem to be rare. Fraud should definitely be investigated and dealt with when found. Waste and abuse, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
During the good times, we tend to forget that government is not a business and should not be run like one. Then when disaster strikes, we are outraged government is not there to help.