Justice: Prison Compassionate Release Programs Inconsistent

NPR | May 1, 2013 6:18 p.m.

Contributed By:

Scott Neuman

Inmates file by a guard tower at California's Chino State Prison in 2010.

Inmates file by a guard tower at California's Chino State Prison in 2010.

Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

“Compassionate release” programs that free inmates with terminal illnesses and limited life expectancies are poorly run and lack clear standards, the Department of Justice’s inspector general said on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reports:

“The investigator’s office found that in a study of 206 such requests from 2006 through 2011, the director of federal prisons approved 142 releases and denied 36. In 28 cases, the inmates died before a decision was made.”

The prison bureau’s compassionate release program “is poorly managed” and its implementation “has likely resulted in potentially eligible inmates not being considered for release,” the IG concluded.

The report made 11 recommendations for fixing the program’s problems and because of the cost of keeping seriously ill prisoners in custody, concluded that, “an effectively managed compassionate release program would result in cost savings … as well as assist the [bureau] in managing its continually growing inmate population.”

AP says:

“At some institutions, only inmates with a life expectancy of six months or less were eligible for consideration. At some other institutions, the life expectancy for considering compassionate release was 12 months or less.

“Some federal prisons do not have standards for how quickly the review process should move. The inspector general found that the process for appealing a warden’s or a regional director’s denial of a request can take more than five months.”

The Bureau of Prisons says it is developing new guidance to determine when medical compassionate release is appropriate and is looking into revamping its procedures for granting nonmedical compassionate release.

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