Poor management of a federal “Compassionate Release” program is clogging federal prisons and causing inmates to die behind bars who should have been considered for at-home care, according to a new audit from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General. The report identified “multiple failures” in the program, noting that prisons are not even required to inform inmates that a policy exists for releasing low-risk inmates who are severely ill or have other “extraordinary circumstances” such as a dying family member or a child destined for foster care. Of the 208 inmates approved for the program, 28 died in custody before their release due to delays, according to the report.
Earlier this year, a review by advocacy groups found that compassionate release is exceedingly rare, turning sometimes short stints in prison into life sentences. While even tough states like Texas let out about 100 people per year on medical parole, the entire federal system releases on average around two dozen people, out of a population of more than 218,000 inmates. The report provided jarring examples of inmates with compelling stories who died in prison, in spite of the pleas even of the judge who sentenced them. Releasing severely ill low-risk inmates is not only humane and poses very low risk; it also saves prison systems the significant medical costs they carry.