A former New Hampshire inmate says the state is retaliating against over a healthcare lawsuit.
Eric Cable, writes the Associated Press, launched his lawsuit in March. The man claimed that prison officials were negligent in ensuring his well-being throughout the period of his incarceration.
During his time in lock-up, Cable says he wasn’t treated for Type 2 Diabetes. Staff didn’t order lab tests or perform foot examinations. Eye exams, when they were given, were insufficiently thorough.
While Cable’s suit has yet to reach an end, New Hampshire filed a counterclaim in July, requesting $119,000 in reimbursement.
That reimbursement, says the Associated Press, is intended to cover the cost of Cable’s incarceration.
Cable was convicted in 2013 of causing the death of a Manchester, New Hampshire man in a ‘drunken boating accident’ the year before. He was released from prison in 2017, having served four years on a single count of negligent homicide.
Even though the motion is allowed by state law, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire says it’s a clearly retaliatory motion.
“Allowing this counterclaim to proceed would be deeply harmful,” ACLU attorneys wrote in a brief early last week. “It would have the obvious effect of deterring inmates from bringing valid claims—including constitutional claims—against the state prison system.”
But New Hampshire has let the state request cost reimbursements from former inmates since 1996.
For current inmates, reports the AP, ‘the attorney general’s office can seek reimbursement if it determines that an inmate has sufficient assets to pay for all or part of his or her incarceration costs.’
Inmates can try to file an appeal, and courts have to consider whether one has other financial obligations that would prevent them from paying.
One way or another, the provision—often called ‘pay-to-stay’—lets the state recoup the costs of incarceration from inmates who don’t have any legal backing or know-how.
“This practice is a way for the state to essentially immunize itself from liability by prisoners because there’s nothing stopping them from doing this in every case where an inmate sues,” ACLU attorney Henry Klementowicz said.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office declined to offer any comment on Cable’s case. As the AP reports, the state’s only sought reimbursement from 11 inmates in the past decade—and none of those claims were in relation to lawsuits.
Rep. Donna Sytek, a New Hampshire state politician whose bill led to the law’s enactment, didn’t intend for it to be used to curb litigation.
Sytek told the Associated Press that her original proposal suggested charging inmates co-pays for medical treatment they requested, as well as for the cost of property they damaged while behind bars. The overall “cost of care” stipulation was added later.
“The ability to go after somebody six years after they got out was added as a Senate amendment and the House went along with it,” Sytek said. “I think the rationale at the time was most of these people don’t have any money, but if a multi-millionaire somehow gets sent to prison, why should the taxpayers have to pay for it?”
The ACLU says this case is the ‘first time the State has filed a petition seeking cost of care against a former inmate.’