More elderly and ill prisoners would be eligible for release under a proposed House bill

Florida prisons incarcerate tens of thousands of men and women. Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

State Rep. Bobby DuBose filed legislation this week that would expand the use of medical releases for gravely ill prisoners and create a system for releasing more elderly prisoners based on their age.

“Our state prisons should not be warehouses for the ill and the elderly. I am pleased to file this bill (HB 837) to expand conditional medical release and follow the lead of 17 other states in adopting geriatric release programs for inmates who no longer pose a threat to society,” the Fort Lauderdale Democrat said in a written statement. “It’s the humane thing to do, the fiscally responsible thing to do, and the right thing to do.”

One provision in DuBose’s bill would expand the existing “conditional medical release” program, which has been in effect since 1992, to include prisoners who have “debilitating” diseases. Currently, the program is limited to prisoners with terminal illnesses or those who are “permanently incapacitated” by their illnesses.

The Florida Commission on Offender Review, which oversees the medical release program, would determine whether prisoners should be released for a debilitating illness under DuBose’s bill.

Over the last three years, the commission has granted 73 medical releases, although the Department of Corrections recommended 149 prisoners for medical release, according to legislative analysts.

Another provision in DuBose’s legislation would create an “aging inmate release program,” through which prisoners could be considered for release if they are at least 70 years old and have served at least 10 years in prison. Inmates convicted of murder or sexual crimes would not be eligible.

Similar legislation is pending in the Florida Senate.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee last month unanimously approved a bill (SB 556), sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, that would also expand the medical release program to include prisoners with debilitating diseases.

Brandes has another bill (SB 574) that would create an aging inmate release program, targeting prisoners who are at least 70 years old and have served at least 10 years of their sentences. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to review the bill next Tuesday.