Thanks to Diane Ross/Cheatham, who sent me this article.
Delaware, and most states, have a mechanism to release ill inmates, each of whom costs taxpayers over $100,000 annually to keep in prison. They are a safe way to reduce prison populations, and thousands of inmates should be released using them, but they are a joke. Delaware’s “POPS Program” has released only 4 or 5 people since its inception years ago! Here we see that the federal system is no better.
WHY? Because for every 1 person arrested, 29 benefit financially! So it is NOT in the interests of prison guards, private prisons, prison “health care” providers, prosecutors, and scores of other companies and organizations to release those who should be released. Indeed, many of these spend BILLIONS of dollars annually in campaign donations and on lobbying to prevent need reforms!
Excerpts from the Article:
At a federal courthouse in Tennessee, a judge signed an order allowing an ailing inmate to go home. But he died in a prison hospice before he heard the news.
At his wife’s home in Indiana, as she was getting a wheelchair, bedpans and other medical equipment ready for his arrival, the phone rang. “It was the chaplain,” said the wife, Marie Dianne Cheatham. “He said, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you.’ And my heart fell through the floor. I knew what he was going to say.”
For years, terminally ill federal prisoners like Ms. Cheatham’s husband, Steve, have in theory had the option of what is called compassionate release. But in practice, the Bureau of Prisons would often decline to grant it, allowing hundreds of petitioners to die in custody. One of the provisions of the new criminal justice law, signed by President Trump on Dec. 21, sought to change that, giving inmates the ability to appeal directly to the courts.
Mr. Cheatham, 59, did just that, filing a petition last month so that he could leave prison in North Carolina and go home to die. He became one of the first to be granted release under the new law. But then came the harsh truth that made so many families pin their hopes on the law’s passage in the first place: Days and even hours can mean the difference between dying at home or behind bars.
Created in the 1980s, compassionate release allowed the Bureau of Prisons to recommend that certain inmates who no longer posed a threat be sent home, usually when nearing death. But even as more and more Americans grew old and frail in federal penitentiaries, a multilayered bureaucracy meant that relatively few got out.
A 2013 report by a watchdog agency found that the compassionate release system was cumbersome, poorly managed and impossible to fully track. An analysis of federal data by The New York Times and The Marshall Project found that 266 inmates who had applied between 2013 and 2017 had died, either after being denied or while still waiting for a decision. During the same period the bureau approved only 6 percent of applications. Many state penal systems, which house the majority of American inmates, have their own medical release programs with similar problems.
“It is a system that is sorely needing compassion,” said Mary Price, the general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which advocates criminal justice reform.
The changes to compassionate release were only one plank of a bipartisan push last year to overhaul the federal criminal justice system. The resulting law, the First Step Act, also expanded job training for inmates, reduced some sentences and allowed the release of some inmates serving lengthy terms for crack cocaine offenses, including one man, Matthew Charles, who attended the State of the Union this month as Mr. Trump’s guest.
The law’s passage has caused a scramble to use the new appeal process for compassionate release, said Ms. Price, whose organization has worked to arrange lawyers for some of those inmates. “There’s a road map now for this, and a way home for people that we’ve never seen before,” Ms. Price said.
Before the First Step Act passed, Ms. Cheatham followed its fortunes closely, hoping it could lead to a shortened sentence for her husband, whose health was deteriorating. Last fall, he was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and told he had only a few months to live. In mid-December, he applied for compassionate release, Ms. Cheatham said. The new law requires that prisoners be told within 72 hours of a terminal diagnosis that they may apply for compassionate release, and that the Bureau of Prisons aid those who wish to apply but cannot do so on their own.
After a few weeks, Ms. Cheatham had heard nothing back. The Bureau of Prisons declined to answer most questions about Mr. Cheatham’s case, but did say that it had not received his application for compassionate release until Jan. 11. According to the judge’s order, the request was filed on Dec. 13.
It was to be a homecoming to a home Steve Cheatham had never seen. The Cheathams had met and married after he was already in prison, serving a nearly 16-year sentence for a series of bank robberies in 2006. According to an F.B.I. agent’s account, Mr. Cheatham passed notes to tellers at three banks in Tennessee, making off with about $13,000. The agent made no mention of any weapon. Ms. Cheatham’s son, who was serving a sentence for drug and gun crimes at the same prison, put the two in touch. They started as infrequent pen pals, then began corresponding in earnest. After that: in-person visits, love letters, detailed discussions about what life would be like when Mr. Cheatham was released as early as 2020.
After a lifetime of setbacks — failed marriages, children in trouble with drugs or the law, a stretch of homelessness — Ms. Cheatham, a 67-year-old former truck driver who lives in a quiet retirement community in Fort Wayne, said her new love had brought a sense of wholeness. “When this guy came along, it was like he treated me like a queen, like I was something really special,” she said. “It was as if I was seeing a little glimpse of how God looks at me. And it was just such an unconditional, perfect love.”
Last summer, with the help of her pastor and a notary, the Cheathams exchanged signed wedding vows through the mail. They decided to wait to file the documents until after Mr. Cheatham’s release. A federal judge recognized them as married on the compassionate release order, but Ms. Cheatham — whose legal name, technically, is still Marie Dianne Ross — said prison officials had not allowed her to send a wedding ring. “We had so many things we wanted to do,” Ms. Cheatham said. Eat breakfast at Rich’s Cafe in Fort Wayne. Spend time with each other’s families. Take road trips to Arizona in a motor home.
But the photos in Ms. Cheatham’s apartment showed the fading of those dreams. In one, taken a couple of years ago, Mr. Cheatham is standing straight in khaki prison clothes, his arm around Ms. Cheatham. In another, from a final visit a few weeks ago, he is wearing the same khaki uniform, but sitting in a wheelchair, looking gaunt and at least a decade older. Ms. Cheatham also has advanced-stage cancer, but the two continued to talk about life together, hoping for a miracle.
More recently, the couple had been unable to communicate because she could not call the prison and he was too sick to get to the phone. Their last email exchange was on Jan. 10. On Jan. 30, the formal request for compassionate release was filed, and the next day, a judge signed the order to send Mr. Cheatham home. Ms. Cheatham got the news shortly after 1 p.m.
“My heart just was so full of joy,” she said. “I called everybody I could think of to tell them,” including the prison chaplain, whom she asked to deliver the good news to her husband. Later that afternoon, the chaplain called back. Mr. Cheatham had died before he could tell him about the judge’s order. Ms. Cheatham was devastated, but expressed her hope that on some level, Mr. Cheatham may have sensed the news.