Senate Bill 320 — Senator Jessica Garvin, Author
Senate Bill 396 — Senator Jo Anna Dossett, Author
House Bill 1903 — Representative Cynthia Roe, Author
These bills define medical frailty and medical vulnerability for medical parole consideration to expand compassionate release and safely reduce the prison population.
Incarcerated people have higher rates of chronic illnesses than the general population. Long prison sentences in Oklahoma result in a large aging population. While access to adequate healthcare is a constitutional right for people in prison, it is costly and prisons are ill-equipped to provide the level of care that is increasingly necessary for a population that is aging in place. Additionally, prison itself can exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions and make it nearly impossible to stop the spread of infectious diseases.
Research shows that aging and infirm people no longer pose a significant threat to public safety, however, Oklahoma law does not have an adequate mechanism for compassionate release. The medical parole statute has been read to mean that only people who are near death or dying can be considered for early release, leaving behind people with chronic, debilitating illnesses who are no longer a threat to public safety.
SB 320, SB 396, and HB 1903, would permit early release on medical parole if a person is determined to no longer pose a threat to public safety and is near death or dying, has a defined medical condition that renders them unable to perform two or more activities of daily living on their own, or is medically vulnerable.
A medical determination will remain a three-step process, where a prison medical provider, the Medical Director of the Department of Corrections (DOC), and the DOC Director all agree on the assessment. The DOC Director will then request that a person be added to a medical parole docket before the Pardon and Parole Board (PPB). Only after receiving an affirmative vote from three of the five PPB members will the Governor decide to release someone early.
Medical parole is rarely used. In 2020, only 12 incarcerated people were granted medical parole. A clearly defined and appropriately utilized medical parole process will safely reduce the prison population and save taxpayer dollars.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Does this let people with violent convictions off easy?
No. Anyone charged with a crime who is medically frail will likely have served the majority of their sentence. The risk of reoffending drops significantly with age, and even more so for anyone with significant health issues.
What if someone commits a crime while out on medical parole?
If the medical parolee commits a new crime, that is grounds to have the medical parole revoked and they will be taken back to prison to serve the remainder of their term.
Where will these people go if they are released?
People cannot be released on medical parole unless they have a valid home offer. These arrangements must be made by DOC before the release or the person will remain in custody. Sometimes family members are able to care for their relatives, and other times nursing homes or hospitals are a better placement option.
How does this bill differ with SB729?
SB 729 uses some of the same language as the bills outlined here. It adds a special medical parole process for those over 50 who are medically frail and serving time for low-level property offenses. This population is already targeted by Aging Offender Parole and Administrative Parole. SB729 also does not provide for the medically vulnerable population in the event of a Catastrophic Health Emergency.