Michael Tyrrell, a prisoner, chained to his bed as he's connected to life support machines.
Compassionate Release Prison Health Issues

Should Critically Ill Prisoners Be Released, Or Die In Prison?

State prisons are caring for aged and the critically ill inmates & burying dead prisoners. Shouldn’t aged and ill inmates be released on medical parole?

Dead inmates  in a Massachusetts state prison who have no family to take care of their arrangements are buried by prison authorities. Many of the dying inmates are very old or they suffer from debilitating diseases.

The prison bears the financial price of caring for the critically ill and the expenses to bury them. Is it not economical to release the aged and ill prisoners instead of caring for and burying them?

An older prisoner with glasses rested on his forehead playing chess.
Even with good behavior, prisoners like the one pictured above are unlikely to find freedom in their fragile years, even after being successfully rehabilitated. Image Source: AR+

The prison hospital in Massachusetts spends more than $238,000 for one critically ill inmate per year. This amount is four times the cost of keeping one prisoner incarcerated in a maximum security prison.

A local funeral home bills the prison almost $1,000 to bury a prisoner who dies in custody.  This is in addition to the thousands of dollars spent caring for the aged and sick over the years.

Longer Prison Sentences for the Aged Linked to the Sick and Dying Prison Populations

This is a real problem in Massachusetts. The state has a significantly large population of older inmates. In fact, the Justice Department says 17% of inmates in the state are over 55 years of age. This is a result of aged people being handed longer prison sentences for terrible crimes.

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Michael Tyrrell, a prisoner, chained to his bed as he's connected to life support machines.
Michael Tyrrel, age 65, died one day after this picture was taken, chained to his bed in prison. His daughter mourns his loss while questioning the decency of this practice, keeping prisoners in these states as if they’re a danger to society. Image Source: The Guardian

The downside is when the aged prisoners develop health complications. They usually die in prison. The authorities are left to bear the costs of caring for them. Or the burial if their bodies go unclaimed.

These prisoners are buried in marked but unnamed graves at a cemetery belonging to the state prison. According to Kerry Keefe, who is in charge of treating and burying unclaimed prisoners at given prison facilities in Massachusetts

“this isn’t a bad place to spend eternity, but I think you’d want someone to cry for you.”

He added, three or four inmates die annually. They are buried at the graveyard located one hour north of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Releasing Aged and Sick Prisoners Makes More Sense Than Watching Them Die

Unfortunately, states does not issue compassionate releases very often to deserving prison inmates. This legal provision is for the oldest and sickest inmates who do not pose a serious threat to the society upon release.

When aged and terminally ill inmates are granted medical parole, the prison will be decongested. Several thousands of dollars will be saved per year.

On another serious note, the state Parole Board (collaborating with the governor) only commuted the prison sentence of one of 769 inmates who applied for a reduced sentences since 2000.

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Just recently, Massachusetts turned down medical parole for an inmate suffering from cancer of the pancrease. They said the inmate still had enough kicks left in him to warrant trouble when released. The state prefers to bear the costs of treating his disease and burying him when he dies.

Bottom line is terminally ill and aged prisoners should be offered compassionate release or medical parole. They shouldn’t have to suffer a debilitating disease then death while in prison custody.

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Charles Omedo
Charles Omedo has a degree in Mass Communication and a PGD in Digital Communication. He worked as a newspaper/magazine reporter and editor for many years. Now, he writes daily news articles for private clients. Charles has written for US/UK/Canadian/Indian clients on various niches. He currently writes prison news for loved ones of inmates on the Prison Rideshare Network.