Options for Aging Prisoners

In 2013, Department of Justice Inspector General Glen Fine issued a scathing report on Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) tail-dragging that allows sick and elderly prisoners to literally die while awaiting decisions on compassionate release. Between 2006 and 2011, the BOP Central Office approved fewer than two dozen compassionate release petitions each year. Twenty-eight prisoners passed away awaiting word. The problem is systemic: in five years, prison wardens and BOP regional offices forwarded only 211 compassionate requests to the central office for consideration.

In 2013 speech before the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder, gave voice to these concerns, calling for an end to mandatory minimums that condemn non-violent offenders to long prison terms that do not serve society’s best interests. Almost half are serving time for drug-related crimes in a prison system that is now 40 percent over capacity. Holder also pushed for the early release of seniors and ill inmates who pose no danger to society. “While the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary,” Holder said, “we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.  We must never stop being tough on crime. But we must also be smarter on crime.”