Compassionate Release and Medical Parole

Compassionate Release policies grant early discharge or parole to incarcerated individuals due to serious illness or age-related impairment

Compassionate Release generally refers to policies and laws under which medical and correctional administrators, parole boards, and/or the courts grant early discharge or parole from prison to incarcerated individuals on the basis of serious illness or age-related impairment. 

While Compassionate Release laws are based on a humanitarian desire to allow people to receive treatment in a community setting and to spend their remaining days outside of prison in the company of their family and friends, there are also other practical considerations, including the high cost and minimal public safety value of incarcerating people who are old or gravely ill.

Only 12% of case for medical parole make it as far as release. (Vera Report 2018)

From 1993 to 2013, the number of people age 55 and older in state prison grew 400%. With their incarceration, the elderly bring fairly demanding health and end-of-life care needs. From a Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) 2018 report and a sampling of cases from 2013 to 2015, the six most common conditions for medical parole requests (where information was available) were for cancer, end-stage liver disease, cerebrovascular disease or accident, diabetes or other endocrine disorders, pulmonary conditions, and renal disease. 

The criminal justice system makes insufficient use of compassionate release laws and policies. In New York, even people who are referred, eligible, and granted release by the New York State Board of Parole face a formidable challenge in finding a community placement that can accommodate their medical and nursing needs.

55% of medical parole requests and 44% of those approved were for incarcerated people age 55 and older. (Vera Report 2018)

The result? Too many people are dying in prison, at great human cost and at great cost to taxpayers.

Project Guardianship Advocacy

There is a need for more conversations to be held on the issue and practice of compassionate release and medical parole for elderly and seriously ill populations of incarcerated persons. 

Project Guardianship has transitioned several clients from New York City prisons and jails into community settings that meet their special needs. 

The challenges for individuals re-entering the community are complex — adequate transitional or permanent housing, financial support, and the acceptance of formerly incarcerated individuals on community supervision into nursing homes. Where will the individual live? Does the individual have any relatives who can provide support in some way? Will an individual be well-served by a substance abuse treatment facility? Individuals who are recently released may also require governmental assistance with housing subsidies, food stamps, SSI/SSDI, and Medicare and Medicaid. 

For those individuals who will require a guardian upon release, another major obstacle may also be the difficulty in finding guardians to serve this population under current government payment mechanisms for guardians.

Governor’s 2019 Justice Agenda and State of the State Report 

A Question of Compassion, Medical Parole in New York State, Vera Institute of Justice, 2018 Report

Elderly People in Prison Present Little Risk, but Staggering Costs, Vera Institute of Justice, 2015