Solutions for dealing with an aging, graying prison population tend to fall into two camps: release elderly offenders at low risk for recidivism to their families and nursing homes, or expand medical care and build nursing homes within prison walls.
Abuse survivor Danika Austin says she supports compassionate release for dying offenders.
“Everyone deserves some peace and dignity prior to passing, regardless of what he did,”
She says this includes the man who has been in prison for more than a quarter century for sexually abusing her when she was 10 years old.
“Even though I had a breakdown after meeting him in 2009, I wouldn’t want him to spend his last few breaths locked up in a cage with people who don’t care,” Austin says. “He did what he did, but he’s still a person. I’m all about releasing someone to feel the care and concern of a nurse, caregiver or family member—as long as he wouldn’t be able to just get up and walk out the door.”
For Kim Book, whose 17-year old daughter was stabbed to death 17 years ago by a teenager the girl knew, letting prisoners out before they complete their sentences—even dying ones who have exhibited model behavior for years—is unacceptable.
“I realize aging prisoners cost more, but when you are handed a sentence, that is what you should serve,” Book says. “It’s about being accountable for what you do— even my daughter. She made choices to be with the man who murdered her. It ended up costing her life.
“Early release may be compassionate, but I’m in a prison of my own and I can’t get out for being good,” Book says. “This will be a part of my life until my last breath.”
Even so, Book—who started an advocacy group called Victims’ Voices Heard after her daughter’s death, and volunteers with prisoners today—says the system should be humane and compassionate to dying inmates.
“The family should be able to visit liberally as an offender is dying,” she says. “Hospice should be in all the institutions. There should be prison nursing home facilities.”