By Michael Gerstein, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — About 120 frail prisoners a year would be released to live in a nursing home under a plan approved by the Michigan House late Wednesday.

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The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration at a time when the number of geriatric prisoners and associated health costs are rising. The plan could save the state’s prisons up to $5.4 million a year, because medically frail prisoners cost between three to five times more than other prisoners, according to an analysis from the House Fiscal Agency.

Michigan’s prisons hold about 9,000 prisoners who are at least age 50. Bill sponsor Rep. Al Pscholka, a Republican, said some 120 prisoners die each year, about the same number who could be up for parole under the legislation. Those eligible could be any kind of offender, so long as they’re medically frail enough to no longer pose a threat to anyone.

“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,” Pscholka said.

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The state’s elderly prison population climbed after the “tough on crime” period of the 80s, said Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. Many of the people who were sent to prison then are still there.

“It would be really great if we could move them out into a nursing home because they’re not a threat,” Gautz said.

Pscholka said he is waiting to hear back from federal officials to see if Medicaid could legally pick up the costs for the parolees.

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