According to the Vera Institute, "In the years following its creation [in 1991], few elderly inmates were released." A 2002 audit critical of the program sparked reform, after a fashion, inspiring the Texas Correctional Office for Offenders with Mental or Medical Impairments to contract with
the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) for case management services. The DADS staff conduct all pre-release interviews, handle federal entitlement applications, and coordinate post-release services, including placement in nursing homes, hospices, or at other facilities.40 To ensure that staff make timely referrals for offenders with terminal illnesses or long-term care needs, TCOOMMI also made unit physicians responsible for initiating referrals. (Previously, TCOOMMI would request medical summaries for any referral received from internal or external sources, a process that typically had unit medical staff completing paperwork for offenders whose conditions were not deemed clinically appropriate for early release.) The streamlined referral process helps target appropriate inmates for release and reduces paperwork and processing times.So Texas is now recommending medical releases in a timely fashion, according to Vera. What they fail to add is that most of those prisoners are still not released and ultimately die in prison. The bottleneck occurs at the parole board. They simply don't act on medical parole cases quickly enough and most of those recommended for release expire before a decision is ever made.
Vera recommends that:
- States that look to geriatric release as a cost-saving measure must examine how they put policy into practice. For instance, they should review the release process to address potential and existing obstacles.
- More analysis is needed to accurately estimate overall cost savings to taxpayers—and not just costs shifted from departments of corrections to other agencies.
- More effective monitoring, reporting, and evaluation mechanisms can improve assessments of the policies’ impact.
- Creative strategies allowing older individuals to complete their sentences in the community should be piloted and evaluated.
- Finally, to protect public safety, states should consider developing relevant risk- and needs-assessment instruments, as well as reentry programs and supervision plans, for elderly people who are released from prison.