Column: Medical release bill a humane way to free elderly prisoners
Gov. David Ige has given notice of his intent to veto House Bill 629, the medical release bill that sailed through the state Legislature with virtually no opposition.
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Gov. David Ige has given notice of his intent to veto House Bill 629, the medical release bill that sailed through the state Legislature with virtually no opposition. The governor should not veto this bill. It codifies best practices and provides a pathway to early release on parole for terminally ill and seriously debilitated prisoners who do not pose a danger to public safety.
Releasing elderly and chronically ill prisoners to an appropriate community setting helps ensure that they will get the care they need, and shifts much of the cost of care from the state to the federal government through Medicaid.
Hawaii needs HB 629 because our current medical release program is not working. Many inmates who qualify for medical release are not being referred to the parole board in a timely manner, and the state Department of Public Safety is not doing enough to ensure continuity of care for those who are granted medical release.
HB 629 provides a sensible, fair and cost-effective solution to both of these problems.
Gov. Ige’s intent to veto message is not correct in stating that HB 629 imposes burdensome requirements on the Department of Public Safety that would require additional staff and funding. The only thing the bill requires is a brief statement as to whether the inmate meets the criteria for medical release, the diagnosis and prognosis for serious medical conditions (which should be easy to obtain from the inmate’s medical chart), and additional medical information “where practical.”
It also requires an assessment as to whether the inmate poses a danger to society, and a plan that ensures continuity of care as the inmate transitions from one medical setting to another. The medical and risk assessment required by HB 629 are exactly what the parole board needs to make sound decisions, and the discharge plan is no more complicated that the ones that hospitals prepare for chronically ill patients every day.
According to the final report of the House Concurrent Resolution 85 Task Force on Prison Reform, “Creating Better Outcomes, Safer Communities,” Hawaii has at least 650 inmates over the age of 55 who will soon be developing chronic, age-related illnesses that will require costly and complex care. Let’s not pretend that our prison system can adequately and appropriately care for these men and women. It can’t. They should be paroled to a community-based setting where they can get the specialized treatment they need and most of the cost of care is paid by the federal government.
HB 629 will facilitate the compassionate release of inmates who are dying of cancer and suffering from dementia, strokes, and other debilitating conditions. It will save millions and reflects the values of Hawaii’s people. The governor should sign this sensible, humane and important bill, or allow HB 629 to become law without his signature.
Robert Merce, a retired lawyer, was vice chairman of the HCR 85 Task Force on Prison Reform; Kat Brady is coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons.
For more: See the “Creating Better Outcomes, Safer Communities” task force report at https://808ne.ws/ 2NqZAok.