Hunter Hillmer is a prisoner in his own body. At 19 years old, that will be the case for the rest of his life.
He is now paralyzed from the waist down, but the Topeka man deserves no sympathy. He brought on his condition by driving drunk. He also killed a man in the process and has been convicted of second-degree murder — a crime that carries with it as much as a 13-year prison sentence.
Still, the courts should consider Hillmer’s condition and come to the conclusion that house arrest — in this instance — is penalty enough.
Friends and family members of the 15-year-old killed as a result of Hillmer’s bad decision might disagree. The state might have the prison facilities to house paraplegics and quadriplegics, but from a financial standpoint it simply should not pay the extra freight for Hillmer’s incarceration.
A Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the state pays an average of $70.30 a day to house an inmate. The cost to care for paraplegics and quadriplegics — once you get past the one, one-time expense to buy equipment needed to accommodate them — is only slightly higher.
Still, it is spending more to house a special-needs inmate. And at a time when every dollar counts, the state simply can’t afford the added expense, which would compound daily. At a time when there is a real issue of overcrowding in our prison system, the state needs to consider if this is a man who requires an extended stay behind bars.
This is a story not confined to Topeka. It easily could have happened anywhere. Hillmer has been in the Shawnee County Jail since late May. Officials there say their cost to house an inmate is $89.76 a day, adding that it costs an additional $12 a day to house Hillmer because of medication and specialized materials he requires.
That’s a substantial expense to the state over the course of his sentence. In fact, over the 13-year sentence, that $12 additional a day would add up to nearly $57,000. That’s a tab the taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay.
Put him under house arrest. This would force his family to care for him — and, just as important, pick up the bill for his care.
Hillmer will have no joy ride in avoiding a stay in prison. His life never will be the same. The freedoms he once knew and obviously took for granted are gone. His life hence forth will be a series of challenges, beginning each day with climbing out of bed.
He now begins his life sentence.
— The Hutchinson News