A new watchdog report (PDF) says a Federal Bureau of Prisons program designed to help terminally ill inmates get early release is "poorly managed and implemented inconsistently."
The study by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which was released Wednesday morning, finds that in 13 percent of cases in which prisoners were approved for the program, inmates died before bureaucrats in Washington made a final decision.
Congress gave the Bureau of Prisons the authority to reduce an inmate's sentence for "extraordinary and compelling circumstances," including illness or family crises, back in 1984. But BOP doesn't keep track of the requests for compassionate release and doesn't notify many inmates of their eligibility, the report says.
"We don't sentence people to die alone in prison when we've given them a five-year sentence," lawyer Mary Price told NPR in a story on Morning Edition last year.
For prisons that do monitor the progress or the requests, the inspector general says, the time frame ranges from 5 to 65 days.
The review of prison case files identified 142 inmates released under the program between 2006 and 2011. Given the lack of data, researchers say, it's difficult to say how many inmates actually applied for such relief during that period.
The inspector general says using the compassionate-release program will save prisons an undetermined amount of money, with little cost to public safety. Horowitz says less than 4 percent of inmates who made use of the early release initiative between 2006 and 2011 returned to a life of crime.