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.
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.”
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
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.
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.