The number of elderly inmates incarcerated in New York has increased 98% since 2000. As such, many aging incarcerated persons have serious health issues – some with terminal diagnoses.
In New York, the legislature created a program in which certain incarcerated persons can be released early from prison if they are ill and no longer pose a threat to the community. This program, called Medical Parole, is managed by the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
What is Medical Parole?
The purpose of Medical Parole is to reunite eligible persons with their loved ones during the final stages of illness and to allow death with dignity outside of prison. If an incarcerated person meets the eligibility criteria and is granted Medical Parole, a medical discharge plan is established, identifying the level of medical care required and where the person will live or be placed. A special condition of parole will also require that the person remain under the care of a physician.
Other states and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) refer to such programs as “compassionate release.” Notably, New York’s Medical Parole system provides only for early release when the incarcerated person is ill, but does not provide for such release where a family member or loved one is ill or dying.
Who is Eligible?
New York’s system for Medical Parole provides possible release for (1) those with a terminal health condition; (2) those with a significant and permanent non-terminal condition, disease, or syndrome; or (3) those who are so physically or cognitively debilitated or incapacitated that there is a reasonable probability that he or she no longer presents any danger society. To apply for Medical Parole, an incarcerated person or someone acting on his or her behalf should contact the Commissioner of DOCCS or DOCCS’ Division of Health Services.
Even if the incarcerated person fits into one of these categories, he or she will not be released if the crime of conviction is Murder in the First Degree or an attempt or conspiracy to commit Murder in the First Degree. Further, if the person is serving a sentence for Murder in the Second Degree, Manslaughter in the First Degree, a sex offense, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit one of those crimes, he or she must have served at least one-half of the minimum sentence.
Does the Medical Parole Program Work?
The federal BOP system for compassionate release does not seem to be working, and it has recently come under fire for its ineffectiveness. From 2013 to 2017, the BOP approved only six percent of the 5,400 applications received. Of those incarcerated person who applied, 266 died in BOP custody.
However, New York’s system seems to be performing much better. According to a 2014 report by DOCCS, of the 525 certified applications for Medical Parole received since the program has existed, 413 (78.7%) of those persons met with the Parole Board, and 371 (70.7%) were granted Medical Parole. In 2014, 17 (56.7%) were granted release; in 2013, 12 (70.6%) were granted release.
The recidivism rates of those released on Medical Parole in New York is extremely low, showing that the Parole Board is properly weighing the benefits of release against public safety concerns. Since the Medical Parole program began in 1992, only six (1.1%) individuals have returned to DOCCS custody.
One area for improvement in New York’s system seems to be the timeliness of processing such applications. Since the program’s inception, 135 (25.7%) incarcerated persons who applied for the program died prior to meeting with the Parole Board (108, 20.6%) or before their release after their application was granted (27, 5.1%).
- Christie Thompson, “Frail, Old and Dying, but Their Only Way Out of Prison Is a Coffin,” New York Times, March 7, 2018. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/07/us/prisons-compassionate-release-.html (last accessed March 12, 2018).
- Barbara Hanson Treen, “Blog: A Former Parole Commissioner on Aging & Changing,” Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), Aug. 23, 2017. Available at: http://rappcampaign.com/a-former-parole-commissioner-on-aging-changing/ (last accessed March 12, 2018).
- NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Directive #4304, dated March 1, 2013.
- Kimberly L. Keyser, “Medical Parole 2014,” NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, May 2015.
- Kimberly L. Keyser, “Medical Parole 2013,” NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, August 2014.