By Jamie Fellner
Special to The Bee
California has a hard time letting dying and incapacitated prisoners leave: Over the past two years, an average of 37 prisoners a year received either medical parole (if incapacitated) or a sentence recall (if dying). That’s 0.028 percent of the prison population.
There are no national figures, but our research suggests state and federal laws permitting the early release of prisoners who are terminally ill, permanently incapacitated or simply too old to get out of bed are greatly underutilized.
Release on medical grounds is conspicuous by its absence.
In the Federal Bureau of Prisons – which with 218,000 prisoners, operates the largest prison system in the country – 30 prisoners received compassionate release in 2011 and 37 thus far in 2012. At 0.017 percent of the population, that’s fewer proportionally than in California. Texas is doing better, with 100 prisoners last year – 0.066 – although hardly a figure to feel good about. New York has never exceeded 10 medical parolees in a year.
Why so few?
Officials cite public safety.
Most people would agree that early release on medical grounds would be unwarranted for a prisoner capable of committing a serious crime and likely to do so. The head of the Texas Board of Parole recently suggested that a prisoner on death’s doorstep might have a miraculous recovery and commit a serious crime. She didn’t point to any statistics on the recidivism of dying or incapacitated prisoners who secure early release. We suspect the cases are few and far between.
- Report: BOP Rarely Seeks ‘Compassionate’ Release (prisonreformmovement.wordpress.com)
- US: Prison Officials Thwart Compassionate Release (hrw.org)
- US: Many Dying and Seriously Ill Prisoners Denied Access to the Courts (ionglobaltrends.com)