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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: January 11, 2021 03:04 PM
From: Senator Sharif Street
To: All Senate members
Subject: Medical Parole
In the near future, I will introduce legislation that will create a medical parole program for the men and women incarcerated in our Commonwealth’s correctional facilities.

A person’s fundamental right to be safe and free from disease does not stop at the prison wall. Those rights persist, even for the incarcerated.  The pandemic has enhanced our need for immediate legislative action. And, as we have witnessed in California, outbreaks in correctional facilities don’t only place the lives of those who are confined at great risk – the health emergency can easily spread beyond the prison walls and gravely affect the greater community as a whole.

Currently, the incarcerated who suffer from a serious or terminal illness can petition the court that originally sentenced them and request a transfer to a hospital, hospice location or long-term nursing facility for treatment. This process is lengthy, inefficient, and rarely used.  Replacing this process with a medical parole program would provide the means for humane care for the incarcerated, reduce our prison population which would help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, all while saving the Commonwealth millions of dollars in medical care for aging and geriatric prisoners. Over 7,300 inmates and nearly 3,000 institutional staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in our state prisons, resulting in 76 deaths of the incarcerated. Most of these have occurred since November, and the numbers continue to rise.

On January 7th, 2021, DOC Secretary John Wetzel offered testimony on the spread of COVID-19 at a Policy Committee hearing saying “we cannot stop its spread” and appealed to the General Assembly for a legislative solution. The virus advances through our correctional facilities despite our best efforts at social distancing and proper hygiene measures. Geriatric inmates are at elevated risk as the virus kills older people at higher rates. As of December 4th, the DOC reports that of the COVID-19 related deaths, 93% are aged 50 years or older.

My bill creates a new medical parole process authorizing a court that imposes a sentence to modify a term of imprisonment when any of the following apply:
  • The individual has a serious health issue such as a terminal illness, a chronic and debilitating physical or medical condition or disease or deteriorating physical or mental health due to the aging process.
  • The individual is at least 55 years of age who has served the lesser of 25 years in prison or one half of the minimum term imposed for the offense for which they are currently imprisoned.

Prospects for parole would be granted release subject to criteria the Parole Board would deem appropriate. The process would also require notification to both the original sentencing court, the District Attorney, and the Office of the Victim Advocate.

Our consultation with the Department of Corrections identifies an age of 55 years to grant medical parole. This is consistent with our own General Assembly’s Joint State Government Commission on Geriatric and Seriously Ill Inmates, chaired by then Senator Stewart Greenleaf, that identified geriatric as one “who is 50 years or older because [they] have a physiological age 5 to 10 years older than their chronological age.”
We have a responsibility as to protect our communities. This includes the men and women who are incarcerated. I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation.  Please contact Micah Mahjoubian at micah@pasenate.com if you have any questions.

Introduced as SB835