Capital punishment was abolished in Maryland as a failed and immoral policy in 2013 because it was ineffectual in deterring crime, could not be administered without racial bias, and cost three times that of incarcerating someone for life. Today, we face another practice that poses critical questions surrounding human dignity and fiscal responsibility, and exposes a different brand of death sentence. It is the long-term incarceration of chronically ill, elderly and incapacitated individuals.
Incarceration costs Marylanders $46,000 per inmate annually and increases exponentially as prisoners age. We estimate that it costs $36 million a year to care for the 650 prisoners who are age 60 and older. And, just as it does outside the walls, caring for older people with chronic medical conditions costs infinitely more. Within prisons, care is subpar and palliative treatment for those with advanced illness is limited at best.
Compassionate release is a reasonable consideration when perpetual detainment poses no risk to public safety, while at the same time posing a genuine threat to the life of infirm persons. Unfortunately, the ambiguous legislative language of Maryland’s geriatric and medical release policies results in excluding almost everyone because of a lack of clear standards within the Maryland Parole Commission, which means very few people are ever granted parole for those who are considered “eligible.”