Compassionate Release of Sick or Elderly Utah Inmates

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of March 24, 2018 at least 4,779 inmates incarcerated nationwide were older than 65 years old. Another 5,432 were between the ages of 61 and 65. As the prison population ages, many inmates begin to need increased care related to age or illness. Many states including Utah have a program in place called Compassionate Release to allow inmates who are elderly or facing a major illness due to age or disease to be able to go home early.

Compassionate release

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Inmates incarcerated in Utah prisons usually remain so until either they have served their time or until they have been released on parole by the AP&P. All too often this sees inmates reaching senior citizen status while incarcerated. Unknown to many however, special circumstances allow the parole board to allow inmates to be released under what is known as a compassionate release found under Utah Administrative Code R671-314.

Existence of exceptional circumstances

Utah law makers understand that at a certain age or with growing health complications, it would be more beneficial to send some inmates home. R671-314 states: “The Board shall consider a compassionate release in the following exceptional circumstances:

(a) Upon the request of the Department of Corrections (Department), if an offender’s public safety and recidivism risk is significantly reduced due to the effects or symptoms of advancing age, medical infirmity, disease, or disability, or mental health disease or disability;

(b) Upon the request of the Department if an offender suffers from a serious and persistent medical condition which requires extensive medical attention, nursing home care, or palliative care; or

(c) Upon the request of the Department, offender, or other interested person, if an offender’s immediate family member dies within 120 days of a previously scheduled release.”

Unused option

As Utah continues to pay for the rising healthcare of its incarcerated residents, many wonder why those who are sick or elderly with low recidivism risks remain incarcerated. The option for early release from prison isn’t just given to those who are showing a decline in health. It has to be requested in writing. Unfortunately, many inmates and their families do not know compassionate release is an option and therefore do not request it, leaving their family member to spend their remaining days behind bars.

Inmate medical expenses

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Not only do sick or elderly inmates desire to return home, those who pay for their healthcare agree. According to a document by the Center on Aging at the University of Utah, a 3 year study found that “…older inmates consumed a yearly average of 18% of the contract hospital and physician costs to the Department.” As the prison population ages, the amount spend on their medical expenses and assisted living costs rises as well. Although the Department has tried to “pair elderly offenders . . . who may be less able to care for themselves with younger, more capable offenders who can assist them with daily living tasks”, the increased assistance that comes with age must be overseen by professionals that come with a bill footed by tax payers.

Win-win

If more inmates and their families were aware of the option for compassionate release or if individuals in the Department were to take the initiative and assist inmates in applying for this early release, more inmates could seek medical or long term care outside the prison walls. Not only would this be desirable for many inmates seeking the care of their loved ones and family practitioners, it would also ease the burden on tax-payers who are footing the bill to pay for medical and long term care for incarcerated elderly individuals. For more information on whether or not an inmate qualifies for compassionate release, speak to an attorney or contact the Utah Department of Correction.

Felony Charges for Possession of an Escape Tool

No one wants to be incarcerated, and although people may joke about breaking out, actually being in possession of an escape tool can result in felony charges for inmates or visitors.

Escape tools

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Time behind bars can drag on for those incarcerated and while they may daydream about attempting an escape, possessing any tool that could be used to institute such an escape is against the law. Utah Code 76-8-311.3 states: “a correctional or mental health facility may provide by rule that no . . . implement of escape [escape plan] . . . may be:

(a) transported to or upon a correctional or mental health facility;
(b) sold or given away at any correctional or mental health facility;
(c) given to or used by any offender at a correctional or mental health facility; or
(d) knowingly or intentionally possessed at a correctional or mental health facility.”

Inmates or visitors

Section 76-8-311.3 warns inmates that “Any offender who possesses at a correctional facility or any detainee who possesses at a secure area of a mental health facility, any . . . implement of escape is guilty of a second degree felony.” That same section warns visitors that if someone “transports to or upon a correctional facility, or into a secure area of a mental health facility, any . . . [escape tool] with intent to provide or sell it to any offender, [they are also] guilty of a second degree felony.”

Get out of jail early

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Inmates or their loved ones who wish to shorten the amount of time spent behind bars are encouraged to seek out legal ways to do so. Options such as appealing a case, having an attorney review sentencing for errors, offering information on another case, or showing good behavior while incarcerated are all lawful ways that could shorten a prison sentence. For more information on the possibility of these options with your specific case, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Religious Rights of Inmates in Utah

Inmates in Utah lose many of their freedoms temporarily while they serve their time behind bars, yet many religious rights of inmates continue to be upheld throughout their incarceration.

Freedom of religion

Religious Rights

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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ( . . . ).” It is the right of every person on American soil to practice the religion of their choosing. Although being incarcerated means the temporary loss of many rights, inmates are still given their religious freedom as long as the practice of their religion does not put others in danger.

UDC Handbook

The Utah Department of Corrections Inmate Orientation Handbook states: “Inmates in the Utah State Prison will be allowed access to religious services, except when the inmate’s behavior poses a safety threat to the religious counselor or others attending the religious service.” The handbook also explains that depending on the inmate’s security level, they “may attend scheduled religious services in the chapel” and “inmates will also have access to religious writings unless such writings advocate actions that could present a clear and present danger to the security of the institution.”

Outward expressions of devotion

With the vast range of religions out there, there are many that require outward expressions of devotion beyond weekly services and reading material. Sometimes, these outward expressions conflict with what is typically permissible in prison. Most inmates are required to dress a certain way, have set schedules, and are given the same diet as the rest of the prison population. Fortunately, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) protects many inmates from boundaries that would violate their religious rights.

Religious allowances for inmates

Some of the religious allowances for inmates include:

• Necklaces and jewelry- Many prison systems do not allow jewelry of any kind and even limit what visitors are allowed to wear into the facilities. Regarding religious jewelry for inmates, the UDC notes “medallions or ornaments may be worn based on the inmate’s classification and housing assignments. Inmates may obtain an item by requesting it through one of the chaplains.”

• Religious food restrictions- Some religions have food restrictions that prohibit practicing members from partaking of certain items. Jewish inmates and those practicing Islam are forbidden from eating foods that are not kosher such as pork. Hindu inmates don’t eat beef products as the cow is worshipped in their religion. Utah Department of Corrections offers meals to inmates that coincide with their religious food restrictions.

• Rugs and clothing- Although inmates are required to wear prison approved clothing and use only approved bedding, items such as Prayer Rugs or Kippahs and Yakamas are often available for purchase through prison commissary.
• Long hair- Inmates in the prison system are expected to keep their grooming and appearance clean which in some states involves male inmates having short haircuts. Utah prisons do not have a history of enforcing length restrictions on hair and offer added reassurance for those such as Native Americans, whose long locks are of religious value. Utah Code 64-13-40 (6) states “The department may not require a native American inmate to cut the inmate’s hair if it conflicts with the inmate’s traditional native American religious beliefs.

• Beards- in 2015, a Muslim inmate by the name of Gregory Holt, or Abdul Muhammad, went before the Supreme Court to fight an Arkansas prison law preventing him and others practicing Islam the right of growing a half inch beard in accordance with their religion. The Arkansas facility argued that a half inch beard could allow an inmate to transport contraband into or around the prison. According to the United States Department of Justice, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Holt and “refused to accept that the beard ban was necessary to prevent smuggling of contraband, in light of the fact that hiding places such as hair longer than ¼ inch, moustaches, and clothing were already available.”

Know your religious rights

Inmates are encouraged to discuss their religious rights as soon as possible after incarceration to avoid the unnecessary limits of their freedom of religious practice. For more information, contact the Utah Department of Corrections.