California Bill Would Release Terminally Ill Prisoners

Lawmakers are considering “compassionate release” after it was revealed the state was funneling prisoners into a decertified nursing home

A new bill, AB-960, passing through the California legislature is championing a different approach to an older program that placed prisoners deemed “permanently medically incapacitated” into nursing homes, LAist reports

The program, aptly titled “compassionate release,” allows medically impaired prisoners to be released from the prison system entirely.

Prisoners eligible for compassionate release include those who are “terminally ill with an incurable condition caused by an illness or disease that would produce death within 12 months” or require “24-hour total care.”

The new amendments to the program contained in AB-960 will make it easier for prisoners’ applications to be accepted. 

Of the 304 prisoners who applied for compassionate release between January 2015 and April 2021, only 53 were accepted, while 91 died waiting.

The bill comes as a response to the discovery that the previous medical parole program did not comply with federal guidelines for patient rights, with some prisoners being severely mistreated after they were transferred to nursing homes, an reality that has sadly become almost commonplace in the medical care system. 

In fact, an LAist investigation conducted earlier this year revealed that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had been moving almost all of its patients from various nursing facilities across the state to a decertified one in the San Fernando Valley. 

That facility, Golden Legacy Care Center, had a history of violating federal standards of care, reportedly handcuffing one patient to his bed, according to LAist. 

In December, the federal government revoked Golden Legacy’s license. 

Appallingly, even after its federal certification had been revoked, the CDCR renewed a direct contract with the facility, claiming that it was necessary to be able to enforce regulations that federal standards would not allow.

Typically, when a nursing home loses its federal certification, it also loses its state licensing. However the California Department of Public Health retained Golden Legacy’s license, stating “it can still provide health care that meets state licensing standards.”

“In the case of Golden Legacy, deficiencies over its quality of health care were resolved and corrected,” a CDPH spokesperson told LAist via email. 

Following the release of the investigation, State Assembly member Phil Ting began drafting the new compassionate release program.

“We were really disappointed,” said Ting. “When you have inmates by their very nature, who are either terminally ill, or they need full time medical care or a high level of medical care, it’s just very difficult to imagine them being dangerous at all. Those are exactly the kind of people that we need to get out of a prison setting into more of a lower security, medical setting.”

The new bill is expected to be heard in the State Senate Appropriation Committee next week.

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