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Latest budget still includes expanded eligibility for prison medical release

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Latest budget still includes expanded eligibility for prison medical release

Sep 20, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Kelan Lyons
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Latest budget still includes expanded eligibility for prison medical release
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Aging and infirm inmates make up a growing percentage of North Carolina's prison population. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Following the lead of a budget drafted by Senate legislators earlier this year, the latest version of lawmakers’ budget proposal would expand medical release for elderly people in state prisons.

Current law dictating the medical release of old or sick incarcerated people is very narrow: they must be so sick that they’re likely to die within six months, have a condition that makes them “permanently and totally disabled,” or be at least 65 years old and have chronic, debilitating diseases related to aging.

Provisions on Page 436 of the 611-page budget would modestly expand those criteria, allowing terminally ill people within nine months of death, as well as 55-year-olds who suffer from a disease that makes them medically incapacitated, to be considered for medical release by the state’s Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission.

Those who meet the criteria must also be so incapacitated that they “pose no or low risk to public safety” in order to qualify for medical release.

About 1,000 of the 31,215 people in state prisons could be eligible for medical release under the new rules, according to previous estimates.

Those who are released from prison under medical release are not simply sent home. They are still subject to state supervision until when their sentence would have expired had they remained incarcerated.

Like much of the country, North Carolina’s prison population is growing older as those given long sentences in previous decades remain behind bars. Incarcerated people’s medical needs tend to get more complex as they grow older — which makes it more costly for the prison system to care for them.