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Prison and Program Review Committee

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1098
  • Category: Law Prison

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The idea of sympathetic release of ill and elderly prisoners is not new. In 1994, Professor Russell published consideration of medical parole and compassionate release programs of district and fifty states of Columbia. Only three authorities, the District of Kansas, Maine and Columbia had no programs for the release of fatally ill prisoners. Russell observed that twenty-two states informed that they have no sympathetic release program but they have at least one way by which fatally ill inmate can seek release. These methods were:

•General claim for the Executive kindness
•Commutation of the sentence through administrative procedures of DOC with no specific condition relating to terminally ill. • Normal parole application actions, where prisoner’s medical condition is one factor that to be considered in ordinary parole judgment. Therefore, twenty years back, states acknowledged the need for this security valve still without providing precise legislative basis for it. Prof Russell sustained that compassionate release laws address concerns of the both states and the inmates extreme better than to perform more general compassion petitions or administrative procedures. Current parole policies can be described as penal populism. In my view, the following arguments may have merit:

1)Extensive increase in police inspection and arrests.
2)Elimination of treatment as correctional goal.
3)Exceptional expansion of prison population.

In addition to common criminological concerns, this paper proposes that word compassionate need to do serious illegal use if this law is to make difference in lives of prisoners. Since so much of jail life happens far from the public’s view, changes in implications and policy of long assumed truisms are infrequently observed by those that are not openly affected by penal system. One good point of Wisconsin’s reconsideration is recent changes in sympathetic release standards for prisoners in state correctional facilities. This legislation streamlines the procedure and expands the category of those eligible for sentence modification and. Although the law has much to recommend it, issues unaddressed may prove costly—notably the unintended consequences of placing financial burdens on the families or communities to which these prisoners are released in a bleak economic climate. By way of background, Wisconsin’s current sentencing structure is relatively new; it was overhauled between 1998 and 2003 under the provisions of the state’s Truth In Sentencing legislation.

Under that law, parole was abolished; felons sentenced to prison are now given a bifurcated (two-part) sentence in which the sentencing judge specifies an amount of time a convicted felon will serve in prison and an amount of time the person will serve in the community on extended supervision. Under The original provisions of Truth in Sentencing, most inmates, with approval of the program review committee at their respective institutions, could petition the sentencing court for release to extended supervision in certain extenuating circumstances. However, inmates serving life sentences were not eligible to petition. Eligible inmates included both the elderly and the gravely ill. With regard to the elderly, the program review committee at the housing institution could consider petitions filed by prisoners either 60 or 65 years old who had served substantial portions of their sentences. In addition to these petitions, those who had a “terminal Condition” could file for modification.

The law defined “terminal condition” as a fatal condition afflicting person, caused by wound, illness or disease, as result of which person has medical prediction that his or her life hope is 6 months or less even with life-sustaining treatment provided in accordance with current standard of medical care. Wisconsin’s new compassionate release law simplifies earlier procedures and expands the class of inmates who can petition for sentence modification. The statute retains the distinction between those petitioning for compassionate release because of age and those who petition for reasons of ill health. The age qualifications track the previous legislation; however, the new provision no longer bars petitions by elderly inmates sentenced to life imprisonment. The second category of “extraordinary health condition” may signal greater eligibility to petition under the law. Anyone claiming “advanced age, infirmity, or disability of the person or a need for medical treatment or services not available within a correctional institution” may now petition for compassionate release.

Initially, one must applaud Wisconsin’s willingness to revisit parts of a recent sentencing overhaul to address difficulties in the current system. Although the proposed changes are hardly sweeping in scope, they do offer real possibilities of change. By removing a level of bureaucracy and shifting decision making from elected judges to a politically appointed commission, Wisconsin may speed up the petitioning process and improve results. In an era when judicial elections are marred by often unsupported allegations that opponents are soft on crime, the decision to release an elderly or infirm prisoner seems best shielded from obvious political posturing. That said, the Commission must still be responsive to the citizens of the state. To determine the public-interest standard that governs decisions to grant or deny release, it is helpful to return to standard sentencing goals. Presumably public interest includes consideration of specific deterrence of the inmate and protection of the public, retribution for past wrongs, and an inmate’s efforts at rehabilitation while incarcerated.

The literature also indicates that public interest includes saving the criminal justice system money while not imposing an undue burden on the communities to which the inmates will be released. Finally, it seems that consideration of the public interest must also include some reflection on the odd word compassionate in the title of the statute. Research in this area indicates that elderly prisoners are the least likely to, and the least capable of, committing crimes. In determining the public interest involved in compassionate release of convicts, the Commission will need to ask not only what sort of society we are but also what sort of society we aspire to be. For compassionate release, the public interest must be focused on a very particular private interest. If the Commission is not willing so to act, Wisconsin’s new compassionate release law will not engender much change. Inmates know that they will always be subject to revocation if they step out of line while on extended supervision. This awareness may well discourage further unlawful behavior. In conclusion, elders in prison appear to be more physically impaired than the general elderly population. They frequently have lives marked by poverty and addiction; therefore, they tend to be less healthy than society at large. The major factor contributing to growth in Wisconsin’s prison population is revocation of earlier sentences.


J O’Meara, Gregory. (2010). Compassion and the public interest: Wisconsin’s new compassionate release legislation. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 23(1), 33-38. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/fsr.2010.23.1.33

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