Kevin Zeich had three and a half years to go on his prison sentence, but his doctors told him he had less than half that long to live. Nearly blind, battling cancer and virtually unable to eat, he requested “compassionate release,” a special provision for inmates who are very sick or old.
His warden approved the request, but officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons turned him down, saying his “life expectancy is currently indeterminate.”
Congress created compassionate release as a way to free certain inmates, such as the terminally ill, when it becomes “inequitable” to keep them in prison any longer. Supporters view the program as a humanitarian measure and a sensible way to reduce health care costs for ailing, elderly inmates who pose little risk to public safety. But despite urging from lawmakers of both parties, numerous advocacy groups and even the Bureau of Prisons’ own watchdog, prison officials use it only sparingly.