An 79-year-old man was sentenced to 30 years in prison last week for two counts of assaulting a minor. Does this elderly deserve compassionate release?
One week ago, 79-year-old Jerry Riddle, was sentenced to 30 years in Illinois prison for two counts of sexually assaulting a child younger than 13 years old.
While the crime is undoubtedly one that shouldn’t be tolerated, his infamous story brings up the issue of other elderly inmates. Given their ages and physical conditions, should they be granted compassionate releases?
Compassionate Release: Does the Crime Fit the Time?
Some say Riddle is much too old to serve time in prison. He is expected to serve not less than 27 years behind bars. This means he will be 106 by the end of his sentence.
However, 79 is not as old as some of the other aged inmates inside the Illinois DOC. None of them get a break for being old inside state prisons.
Lindsey Hess, an IDOC spokeswoman, stated that age doesn’t determines where a lawbreaker is placed. Prison housing decisions are dependent upon individual needs.
Hess added that Dixon Correctional Center has a geriatric unit for lawbreakers who don’t need aid with their daily activities. This comes with a 24-hour care unit.
She added that the old timers who seem to be reasonably healthy, get mixed in with the general population. But where Riddle would end up was still unclear. He was still undergoing the intake process.
Hess hinted that the 79-year-old man could end up with some of the oldest prisoners in Illinois DOC.
Do Sick and Elderly Inmates Burden Taxpayers with Medical Costs?
Lots of taxpayer dollars are used to care for the medical bills of many sick and elderly inmates in Massachusetts.
A good number of inmates in Massachusetts are ill and aged. That’s why Mass DOC’s spending is still high even after decreasing the prison population in one of the oldest state prisons in the country.
Mass DOC’ records show that 1,600 inmates are 55 years old and above, with the oldest inmate being 95 years old.
According to the DOC’s spokesperson, Jason Dobson, 31 of these prisoners need full-time care. They require help with their daily activities such as eating and dressing. And, 20 of the 31 inmates are serving life sentences.
The 31 inmates have various chronic illnesses, such as:
- Cardiac problems
- Liver diseases
- Chronic pulmonary diseases
According to the National Institute of Corrections, the average cost of medical care for an aged prisoner (55 years+) having a prolonged or terminal sickness is 2-3 times more than those of the younger inmates.
Compassionate Release: Lawmakers Efforts to Cut Prison Spending
Pat Jehlen, the Cambridge State Senator, helped write a provision of compassionate release in the criminal justice law for the state of Massachusetts. This provision allows cognitively or physically incapacitated prisoners to apply for compassionate releases.
Senator Jehlen doesn’t understand the value of locking up incapacitated dying inmates. To qualify for a compassionate release, an inmate:
- Should have not more than one and half years to live
- Should be permanently incapacitated
Massachusetts DOC will then recommend an inmate to the parole board for a final decision.
The idea behind a compassionate release is to allow the sick and elderly inmate to spend his/her last days at one of the following:
- Medical facility
- Nursing home
Once free and outside prison, private insurance or Medicaid will cover their medical bills.
What Massachusetts Spend on Prison Healthcare for Aged Inmates
Massachusetts State Prisons’ Costs
According to records, in 2016 Massachusetts taxpayers paid up to $283,000 for one prisoner at the Shattuck Hospital Correctional Unit based in Shirley, a prison hospital.
Massachusetts County Jails’ Costs
According to Nick Cocchi, the Sheriff at Hampden County, the County Jail has experienced a rise in jail healthcare costs due to inmates with substance abuse disorders. Stats show:
In fiscal year 18, the most recent fiscal year, it cost the jail $6,700 per inmate for healthcare costs.
The total cost for medical care for the jail for fiscal year 2018 was $8,395,668. This was an increase from fiscal year 2017 where medical costs were $7,851,000, despite having 214 less daily prisoners.
Hampden County jail does everything possible to offset these costs by ensuring the prisoners are getting affordable prescriptions.
Is Compassionate Release the Best Option?
Some say compassionate release is a better option, especially for the sickest inmates in state prisons across the country. However, it is not clear whether the nursing homes are willing to admit these elderly inmates.
According to Sheriff Cocchi, the Massachusetts DOC and the state parole board need to study every case in detail before coming to final decisions.
No Massachusetts inmate has ever been granted compassionate release so far.