February 03, 2010

Law has little effect on early release for inmates

New York's new state guidelines for medical parole release may have led to a surge in applications for early release on medical grounds — 202 inmates last year, compared with 66 in 2008 — but they have had little effect on the outcome. Originally, the compassionate-release law provided early release to inmates suffering from terminal illness or permanent disability, with the exception of those convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, sex offenses, or any attempt to commit those crimes. New legislation, adopted within the 2009 state budget bill, now allows all but first-degree murder offenders to qualify under the compassionate-release law.

Despite the fanfare within the corrections field about the humanitarian and financial benefits of compassionate release — New York is one of a dozen states that have expanded, enacted or streamlined programs over the past two years — the policy shift has had minimal effect. Experts attribute this to the fear that freed inmates, no matter how sick, might commit further crimes, as well as to the difficulty of placing dying criminals in nursing homes.

"The problem is, when we start trying to put people out, there are others in the community who are sure we're trying to make more crime in the community," said Dr. Lester Wright, chief medical officer for the New York State Department of Correctional Services.

Sadly, Eddie Jones, the 89-year-old inmate who could have become the first prisoner to be freed under New York's expanded compassionate-release law, died on the morning of February 1st in his hospice bed in a state prison, according to corrections officials and his niece. He was nine days away from his parole hearing, at which it was hoped that he would be released into his family's care.

Read the full story:
Law has little effect on early release for inmates (New York Times, January 30 2010).
Killer, 89, hoping for mercy, dies in prison (New York Times, February 2 2010).
Death shines light on life: terminally ill inmate puts focus on compassionate release (The Daily Mail, February 3 2010).