Senate approves bill allowing medical release for terminally ill prisoners

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Terminally ill and medically disabled inmates could possibly move out of prison and into community care facilities under a proposal approved by the Illinois Senate Wednesday.

At this time, debilitated or dying inmates can only seek early release from the Department of Corrections through clemency by the governor. House Bill 3665 establishes reasonable timeframes and deadlines for the Prisoner Review Board to analyze cases of incapacity.

Board members would then have the ability to determine if individuals would an improved quality of life outside of prison.

“Being in prison doesn’t make a difference anymore,” said Sen. John Connor (D-Lockport). “If you have pancreatic cancer or something else that’s advanced to a point where you can’t function, does it really make a difference whether you’re within a prison wall or not?”

Republican senators supported the intent of the bill. However, they voted against the proposal since Democrats have allowed members of the PRB to bypass approval from the Senate. The Pritzker administration and Senate Democratic leaders say this isn’t an issue.

“It seems like there is this avoidance of this chamber to talk about the Prison Review Board,” said Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville). “We don’t want to talk about the process, we don’t want to talk about the people. We don’t want to talk about the damage being done to our communities. But, we want to pass a bill that expands the powers of people who are choosing, without any oversight from the Illinois state Senate as the constitution requires, to release violent criminals into all of our districts.”

Joe Coleman Medical Release Act

Democrats previously named the proposal in honor of Joe Coleman, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who died alone in prison. Sponsors explained Coleman struggled with a terminal illness and passed while waiting for executive clemency.

Coleman was serving a life sentence for stealing $640 from a gas station in 1981. Above all, Connor and House sponsor Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) called the situation a tragic failure of the justice system.

“Every year, too many individuals who have spent a lifetime in prison die alone with no family and very little dignity,” said Guzzardi. “My legislation would help restore some humanity for individuals who are not a risk to the public.”

Sponsors said this proposal could save taxpayers millions of dollars by sharing the costs of treatment for inmates with Medicaid. They also noted it could save on the costs of medical transports from IDOC facilities to medical specialists.

The proposal passed out of the Senate on a 34-17-1 vote. Now it heads to the governor’s desk for approval.

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