Thousands of federal prisoners who are gravely ill, suffering from terminal diseases or over age 65 may be eligible for early release under the federal Bureau of Prisons’ compassionate release program, says the Los Angeles Times. A Justice Department inspector general’s report this year found that the program, authorized by Congress in 1984, had been “poorly managed and implemented inconsistently.” A mere two dozen ill prisoners are sent home each year. It’s unclear how many apply because the bureau’s Washington headquarters keeps a tally only of those requests that have been approved by wardens at the local level and passed up.
Attorney General Eric Holder created a working group that is looking for ways to speed up the process, both for humanitarian and budgetary reasons. “There may be good reasons why they should serve the rest of their lives in jail,” he told Congress. “On the other hand, it may be that there’s a basis for them to be released.” The new review has been embraced by advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, which say that the release program has been bogged down in bureaucracy and that wardens and judges remain reluctant to free inmates. They, along with Holder, point to the Bureau of Prisons’ $6.2-billion annual budget, which they call “unsustainable.” In a case cited by the Times, federal taxpayers shell out $68,000 a year for one 85-year-old inmate’s confinement.