Justice Department Slams 'Poorly Managed' Prison Program for Dying Inmates

Mike O'Brien

A program that allows for the early release of prisoners suffering from terminal illnesses has been described as "poorly managed'' in a review by the Justice Department.

The review noted that too many prisoners with debilitating conditions were left to languish behind bars and died before their release requests were acted on by prison authorities.

The Justice Department's inspector general reviewed 208 cases in which inmate requests for so-called compassionate release were approved by lower level Bureau of Prisons officials. Before a final action was decided by the BOP's director, 28 offenders had died.

Related: Correcting the U.S. Prisons Crisis: Experts Weigh In

The report said: "The BOP does not have clear standards as to when compassionate release is warranted and, specifically, whether particular medical or non-medical circumstances qualify for consideration."

The review said that even though many inmates eligible for compassionate release had terminal illnesses and limited life expectancies, there was no uniform system for dealing with requests.

Some prisons took more than two months to review requests of inmates who were seriously ill, USA Today reports.

The review highlighted the case of an inmate’s request for early release in 2006 was denied, even though the offender had suffered a massive stroke and was in a "near vegetative state.''

The inmate was serving a life sentence for cocaine and heroin distribution. He had to have a feeding tube, bathing and a bed-pan. To ensure he did not get bed sores, he had to be re-positioned every two hours.

Officials rejected the request for early release because his life expectancy could not be determined, even though he had no hope for recovery.

Justice officials rejected a recommendation for early release because his life expectancy could not be determined.

The inmate, the report noted, is still in prison and "needs total assistance with his activities of daily living.''

The state of America's prisons will be discussed at IDGA's Prisons & Correctional Facilities summit next month. For full details, go to www.PrisonsCorrectionalFacilities.com