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High Costs, Not Human Rights, Forces Georgia to Release Its Sickest Prisoners

For now, fiscal crises in Georgia will have to suffice for human decency with the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles releasing dozens of sick and elderly prisoners annually to save millions in medical spending. But even though the reprieve application process has been streamlined. prisoners waiting to be heard by the board are still dying in prison.

Since fiscal year 2008, the number of medical reprieves issued by the board has nearly doubled. from 51 to 89 in FY 2011. Compared with costs of around $25 million to care for the 20(1 sickest prisoners incarcerated by Georgia's Department of Corrections three years ago. the reprieves are expected to save taxpayers at least $11 million this year.

State DOC Commissioner Brian Owens said that five years ago the pardons board approved only 10% of medical reprieve applications. But the rate is closer to 70% now.

"We have a great partnership there saving a tremendous amount of money," Owens told state lawmakers earlier [his year.

Reprieves are usually issued to sick prisoners who don't pose a threat to the community because they are often incapacitated. and to those with terminal illnesses who have a life expectancy of less than a year, according to Georgia Pardons Director Michael Nail. 1 le indicated that the board considers incarceration costs. input from victims and prosecutors, time already served and the prisoner's risk of recidivism before granting or denying applications for reprieve.

"The cost to continue to incarcerate an individual who has a known life expectancy that's under 12 months is always a consideration, hut it will never be the first and foremost consideration.- Nail said.

Though the pardons board has expedited its application process—reducing the time required to process a request from six months to about 30 days—prisoners who deserve a reprieve are still dying behind bars. Since July 2011, at least 14 prisoners have died waiting for a review of their applications, and at least another 16 have died awaiting release after the board approved their reprieves.

A May 2012 report showed that, even with the state's new initiative to save money on medical costs, a good portion of the nearly 57.001) prisoners incarcerated by Georgia DOC is elderly or infirm. Almost 1.000 are over 70 years old, and approximately 1.200 more have poorly controlled chronic illnesses or are imprisoned in special housing to treat significant medical problems.

A number of prisoners have terminal illnesses and are expected to die within the next nine months.

Source: The Associated Press

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