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August 18, 2008

Letting them out when sick or dying

This effective article from Alabama highlights one way that states are looking to reduce their prison populations:

Next month Alabama will start releasing sick or dying prison inmates, a move that state prison officials say immediately will start saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Each sick or dying prisoner costs the state $60,000 to $65,000 in medical costs, and about 125 state inmates will be eligible for the furloughs that start on Sept. 1 said Prison Commissioner Richard Allen. But victims rights advocates say the program is so broad it will lead to dangerous criminals getting back on the streets and doesn't save any money because it only transfers the costs from one government agency to another.

There are about 25,000 inmates in Alabama prisons, and prisoners eligible for the program are 55 or older and have life-threatening illnesses -- none convicted of capital crimes and most sex crimes will be eligible, Allen said.

A Montgomery Advertiser review found 37 states have some program allowing for the early release of dying or infirm prisoners, according to state Department of Corrections policies.  A Justice Department official said rising medical costs and mandatory sentencing guidelines that lock prisoners up for longer terms are the reasons so many states have implemented the furloughs, also called humanitarian paroles or compassionate releases. Capt. Ron McCuan, a health analyst with the National Institute of Corrections, a Justice Department agency, said state officials are looking for new ways to reduce health-care expenses....

Wyoming passed a law in March that went into effect July 1, said Belinda Brazzale, a spokeswoman for the prisons system.  For a terminally ill inmate to be considered for release, he or she must have a life expectancy of 12 months or less.

Ohio prison system officials are looking to change the requirement that terminally ill inmates must have a life expectancy of 6 months or less before being considered, said Sara Andrews, superintendent of the Adult Parole Authority.  Ohio has had a medical parole law on the books for more than 25 years.  It was last updated in 1995.  A bill pending in the state Legislature "would broaden the scope of release," she said.

Oklahoma's prisons system began "medical parole" in 2000. Since then about 135 inmates have been released, said Bob Mann, coordinator of clinical social work for the state's prisons system. There have only been "one or two inmates" returned to the prisons who were granted medical parole, Mann said.

North Carolina has about 39,000 inmates in its prison system, according to the agency's Web site. Department of Corrections officials are trying to determine how many of those inmates may be eligible for the medical furlough system, spokesman George Dudley said.

August 18, 2008 at 07:40 AM | Permalink


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Imprisoning a man or woman dying of cancer is akin to cruel and unusual punishment. Obviously this individuals are not going to live very long, and if they do it will be in intense pain.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 18, 2008 10:19:06 AM

I certainly agree with the critics that all one is doing is passing the buck from one government agency to another. I also wonder, genuinely, whether this is really motivated by compassion or not. If one has spent the last 30 years of one's life in prison, one is not likely to have family/social connections in the community any longer. Cynically, it strikes me that this is a way to dump these very ill patients onto the local hospice or Medicare nursing home where the standard of care (as I know from personal experience) is less closely monitored. For many individuals, I can see how releasing them is the cruel and unusual punishment.

The article doesn't explicitly state whether the release is optional and if it is optional whether there is a court appointed guardian for these ill patients that assists them in making the best decision. I think it is presumptuous in the extreme to suggest that in all cases keeping a sick and dying person in prison is cruel and unusual; it's much more circumstantial than that.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 18, 2008 12:09:14 PM

This is situation were the protection public safety and retribution clash. For most (but not all) prison inmates the threat to public safety diminishes with age and they could be reclassified to a lower level of security (maximum to medium or minimum) with a modest reduction in the cost of incarceration. The main costs for terminally ill prisoners are for end of life nursing care and medication. My guess is that it costs more to get qualified nursing home staff to work inside a prison. Moving them to a secure ward of an ordinary nursing home would probably result in significant savings.

The clash with retribution is that they were sentenced to die in prison and a secure ward in a nursing home is not a prison. I know this sounds irrational but I think the secure nursing home has to be both classified as an alternate prison and inside a fence.

Posted by: John Neff | Aug 18, 2008 7:47:34 PM

Dear Sir:
I am the sister of of Jerome Eiland #171376 who is incarsorated in prison for burglary 1 and has been for the past fourteen and one half years with a sentence of "LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE". I just don't understand this system at all! He never committed any violence towards any of the individuals ever and yet the State Of Alabama wants to take the rest of his life away for burglary 1 when there are so many more severe crimes that exists out there such as murder, assault,rape, etc. I can just go on and on! He cannot afford an attorney and I just don't know where to turn please help. I have written to the Govenor of Alabama, the president of the united states and I wish I can go nationally on the news to let the whole world see how cruel the system of Alabama really is

Posted by: Linda Williams | Jun 13, 2009 7:49:54 PM

I am the sister of Jerome Eiland #171376 who is incarsorated in the Holman Prison Unit for the past fourteen years for burglary 1 with a sentence of "LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE". He has never committed a violent act towards any individual and yet the State of Alabama wants to take his whole life away for burglary 1 when there are so many more severe crimes out there such as murder, rape,assault etc. I do not understand this system at all I think that the officials who are in office and running the State Of Alabama is some blood thirsty and money hungry individuals who don't care whether a person live or die. My brother wants to file a Kirby Motion for a sentence deduction for a "LIFE" sentence but just cannot afford an attorney. I really wish I could go on national t.v. and let the whole world know what is going on in the State of Alabama.

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