Prison is a tough place, but Congress made an exception nearly 30 years ago, giving terminally ill inmates and prisoners with extraordinary family circumstances an early way out. It's called compassionate release.
But a recent investigation found that many federal inmates actually die while their requests drift through the system.
Etta Mae Lopez needed help. She wanted to quit smoking. She decided she needed to go someplace where she could not go buy cigarettes. And the place that came to mind was jail. Ms. Lopez says this is the reason she went to a jail, walked up to a Sacramento sheriff's deputy and slapped him in the face. The deputy took her inside the jail, where she slapped him again. After pleading no contest to a misdemeanor, she faces 63 smoke-free days.
"Compassionate release" programs that free inmates with terminal illnesses and limited life expectancies are poorly run and lack clear standards, the Department of Justice's inspector general said on Wednesday.
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.