Lighthouse Blog

Secrets from Behind the Big Bold Wall

By Kevin L. Tower

Getty Images, 2019

Behind the big bold wall, men and women give up their last breaths while in hospital beds, wheelchairs, pushing a walker, on oxygen or a breathing machine. What happens when a prisoner is diagnosed as terminally ill? In most cases, they die in a prison or a local hospital. The questions is: Why are State and Federal tax dollars being spent to keep these prisoners behind bars when they are terminally ill?

What society does not know is that you can have a relatively short prison sentence and die in prison. You can also be at the very end of long sentence and die. In most States, if you receive a minimum sentence that is more than a year, you could die in prison. The reason is that outside of clemency by the Governor, there is no mechanism for release. Governors are hesitant to sign commutations fearing political consequences.

Keeping terminally ill prisoners and many others with debilitating chronic life ending diseases costs the taxpayer unnecessary burdens. These prisoners can be managed in society on tether with intensive parole or probation supervision. Alternatively, furloughing terminal prisoners is an option. A furlough does not change the sentence except in giving the prisoner stay of enforcement of the imprisonment component of the sentence. Many States would benefit from a Federal Immunity on civil suits against officials that order the release of or monitor a furloughed prisoner.

This Article is not intended to undermine the rights of crime victims or to ignore their suffering. This is a discussion of offender management, not just punishment. Imprisonment serves four functions: One, the reformation of the offender; Two, the protection of society; Three, the disciplining of the wrongdoer; and Four, the deterrence of others from committing like offenses. However, a chronically ill prisoner is generally not able to participate in rehabilitation programming. In addition, corrections officials can effectively manage these prisoners, who often pose little threat to others due to their conditions. Death is not an appropriate outcome for someone who did not receive a sentence of life without parole or a death sentence. Allowing prisoner to die in prison, when that is not their sentence, cannot be an effective deterrence to others.

The truth is, prison life is much harder for a terminally ill prisoner, than it is for the healthy prisoner. One day in prison for a terminally ill prisoner might be the equivalent of 5 to 10 days for another prisoner.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has updated their Guidelines on Compassionate Release. I would encourage everyone to influence their States to depoliticize the release of the terminally ill and adopt the Federal Guidelines.

Compassionate release equals compassion for the taxpayer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *