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Medical Paroles Revoked in California and Massachusetts

by Matt Clarke

Medical parole has always been rare, but new policies in California and Massachusetts are causing medical parolees to be reincarcerated and further limiting those eligible for medical parole.

California has approved 210 medical paroles since 2014, far more than most other states. But its new policy announced in November 2021 limits medical parole to persons requiring the use of a ventilator to breathe. That may send 70 of those medically released parolees—who are quadriplegic, paraplegic, or otherwise permanently incapacitated—back behind bars.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) says the move was forced by a change in how the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services enforces licensing requirements for nursing homes. Specifically, the agency does not allow parole officials to impose any conditions on prisoners in licensed facilities. But CDCR maintains a rule requiring a parole officer’s permission to leave the facility, insisting it is necessary to ensure public safety. Therefore, they are only allowing prisoners on ventilators—who can’t leave on their own—to remain on medical parole.

Federal officials say CDCR has other options, such as placing prisoners in facilities licensed by the state and not subject to federal regulation. CDCR could also determine which medically-paroled prisoners may be safely left in community medical facilities without such a requirement.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts began reincarcerating prisoners released on medical parole for COVID-19 in May 2021, after their conditions improved. Nelson Cruz Rodriguez, 57, was unconscious and intubated while being treated for a severe case of the disease when he was given medical parole and transferred to a community hospital. Eventually, he recovered somewhat, was released, and continued receiving medical treatment at his brother’s house. Then came the surprise arrest.

“It was several parole officers, with backup from local police. It was a show of force. They all had guns,” said attorney Rebecca Rose, who represents Rodriguez, who was so fragile he had to be helped down the steps. “His [parole] officer told him at the time he had done nothing wrong, but that he was no longer eligible for medical parole.”

The parole board said it revoked Rodriguez’s parole because he had resumed independent activities such as “showering and using the bathroom.”

John Stote, 61, was placed under arrest the same day as Rodriguez. Stote was given medical parole to be hospitalized on a ventilator for COVID-19. The night before he was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital, he was arrested and returned to prison for being no longer eligible for medical parole.

“He’s completely wheelchair bound” said attorney Mark Bluver, who represents Stote. “He has no function of his left hand or wrist. He cannot dress himself. He cannot put toothpaste on a toothbrush. He can’t cut his own food. He’s back on oxygen.”

“I think what the parole board did is lawless,” Bluver continued. “The commissioner and the doctor who evaluated him said that even if he recovers [from COVID-19]—and thank God he has—he is still permanently incapacitated,” which is the primary condition making a person eligible for medical parole.  

Sources: Associated Press, Corrections One, WBUR

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