The Economics of Sentencing: When Nursing Homes Supplant Incarceration

There were once famous words that were uttered in law school classrooms and courtrooms across the country and they sounded like this: “Let the punishment fit the crime.” While that sounds like a logical phrase, what happens when punishment grows out of control and we end up with economic hardship within the prison system? Today, we will explore the economic issues that the Michigan Department of Corrections is facing and examine how House Bill 5078 has the potential to change the prison system. In addition to exploring the issue, we will speak with leaders in the criminal defense sector and see how the economic argument can change the sentencing aspect.

When we review the legislation from a global view, we see that House Bill 5078 was introduced by Rep. Al Pscholka (R) with the goal of saving the state of Michigan nearly $6 million per year in healthcare for those that are incarcerated. The plan would be to place these prisoners in nursing homes due to the costs that is associated with housing them. As Pscholka told the Associated Press, “A lot of them are bed-ridden. Some of them are taken advantage of or abused in prison, and this is just a better place for them to be.” While Pscholka’s bill has presented ire from many, the logic connected to the verbiage has resonated within the criminal defense sector and caused an ongoing debate.

Scott Grabel of Grabel and Associates is known as the leader in criminal defense within the state of Michigan. When asked about the bill, Grabel responded by saying, “The facts are undisputed. When we review statistics from the Michigan Department of Corrections, we see that it will cost the state of Michigan at least 5-times as much to house a sickly inmate and many older inmates fall into this category. While it would take some structuring from the healthcare sector, we have a possibility to improve the quality of life for many of the elderly while simultaneously saving our state millions of dollars. This is the classic example of a win-win scenario.”

Matthew McManus, a partner of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan also provided commentary. “Our firm does a lot of civil litigation and while I understand that many are opposed to this legislation, there is something in addition to saving the state money going on. In essence, the bill could place a prior restraint on litigation against the Michigan Department of Corrections. If the frail inmate is not taken care of properly, the state could look at litigation that the 11th Amendment will not protect them from. In addition to being a practical solution this also presents a legal solution.”

Ravi Gurumurthy, an Associate Attorney at Grabel and Associates and the founder of Michigan Legal North stated, “When we see an elderly person get sentenced, we are facing a scenario of vulnerability. There is no question that the older inmate will be the target of other inmates and even if they were to have a “normal” prison experience, the healthcare costs are astronomical for their care. Rep. Pscholka was very forward-thinking in his presentation.”

While this bill squarely places the onus on nursing homes, there is also another possibility for the state to consider and that would be an elderly prisoner being placed on House Confinement as opposed to the nursing home. The savings would still be in place for the state and the method of healthcare would still be accomplished. The Bill will present options and savings to the Michigan Department of Corrections and for that reason, we could be on the cusp of a new era in the state of Michigan.

William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and an Associate at Grabel and Associates. In addition to his legal duties, he is a journalist for “The Chronicle News” and runs BAT Tutoring in Lansing, Michigan. He can be reached at

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