The ongoing debate of ex-cons and their care needs

A reader recently commented on a post on my personal blog about the question posed: Do former inmates deserve to be living in nursing homes? She said:

Deserve? So … what, once they’ve served their sentence and justice has been done they shouldn’t have the same range of choices available to them as to any other citizen? Is being institutionalized supposed to be a privilege now? How about appropriate care in the least restrictive environment?

We are after all talking about people who have done their time—prison inmates with ongoing care needs receive that care behind bars. You make a bad decision (or many), you get caught, brought to justice … at that point a nondisabled ex-convict gets to (try to) resume normal life and rejoin the community. Why should ex-cons with high level care needs not receive the same choices and freedoms?

If there are concerns that a resident may pose a risk to others then the first question surely needs to be: What is the institution doing to maintain the safety and wellbeing of all its residents?”

I think this reader make some excellent points regarding the rights of the convicted after they serve their time, yet the reality remains that many of these people pose an ongoing threat to the community—long after their time is officially served.

A recent post on Chicago Breaking News chronicles how many nursing home patients with extensive criminal backgrounds have settled into nursing homes in the Uptown and Edgewater communities in Chicago. Within the two-square-mile area of the neighborhoods, 11 nursing homes provided care to 318 convicted felons and 1,350 people with mental illness—about 10% of the Illinois Nursing Home population with those particular demographics.

The article details one of Somerset Place Nursing Home and one of its finest patients, Maretta Walker. According to public records, Ms. Walker has more than 35 arrests on her record relating to possession of crack cocaine to slashing people with a razor blade. In May 2008, Ms. Walker was murdered after she signed herself out of the facility for a drug-binge.

Illinois Department of Public Health Investigators determined that amongst other errors, Somerset failed to notify authorities that Ms. Walker was missing from the facility for several days before her body was discovered.

In the end it is up to the facility to make a determination if they are capable of caring for a patient and if the patient poses a threat to others in the facility. To guarantee these felons access to nursing homes simply seems like adding fuel to the fire and jeopardizes the safety of themselves, fellow residents, and apparently the community at large.

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a lawyer who represents people injured in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Jonathan has represented victims of nursing home abuse and neglect throughout Illinois and across the country. Visit his personal blog at and his Web site

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