What Happens When Sheriffs Release Violent Offenders to Avoid Paying Their Medical Bills

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Sheriffs regularly release sick and injured inmates to avoid paying their hospital bills. But in Alabama, some defendants charged with violent offenses like murder have been let out. And some have gone on to commit new crimes.

Joel Tucker was booked into Alabama’s Fayette County Jail in December 2014 after being charged with the violent assault of his sister. According to court records, he punched her in the face, leaving her with a brain hemorrhage, a broken shoulder and other injuries.

“My brother almost killed me,” said Tucker’s sister, Joycelyn Gugaria, now 53.

Nonetheless, the following month, the Fayette County sheriff released Tucker on his own recognizance, citing “medical reasons.”

Sheriffs across Alabama and the U.S. regularly find ways to release sick and injured inmates from county jails to avoid paying for their hefty hospital bills, a practice often referred to as medical bond that AL.com and ProPublica reported in September. Some sheriffs defend the practice as a way to keep jail medical costs down while allowing people who aren’t a threat to society to access care.

In Alabama, it’s now clear that some of those inmates were in jail awaiting trial on charges that they’d committed violent crimes, even murder, AL.com and ProPublica have found.

Tucker is one of more than a dozen violent offenders released from Alabama jails via medical bond that AL.com and ProPublica have identified. One shot and killed another man in a nightclub. Another shot and killed a man outside his house. A third man was released the day after he was charged with second-degree assault.

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