WASHINGTON, D.C., January 20, 2022 –  As the Maryland General Assembly prepares to consider a bill establishing clear standards for compassionate release for people who are incarcerated, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) has released an important new policy paper on compassionate release in Maryland. Compassionate release, an umbrella term for medical and geriatric parole, is essential to the humane functioning of correctional and justice systems.

JPI’s policy paper comes at a time when those living within prison walls have seen their health disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing crisis with profound health ramifications. And 6.4 percent of Maryland’s prison population, or 3,324 individuals, are over 50 years old and 2,341 individuals, or about 11 percent of the prison population, are serving life sentences guaranteeing the growth of the geriatric population in coming years.

The State of Maryland cannot afford to ignore the expenses associated with the growing aging prison population nor the fact that older incarcerated individuals pose a low public safety risk due to their age, general physical deterioration, and low propensity for recidivism.

The report includes data on Maryland’s elderly prison population, information on compassionate release nationally, a breakdown of how medical parole works in Maryland and a comparison to eligibility criteria for federally administered palliative care through Medicare and eligibility for medical parole.

The case of Barbara Hampton exemplifies the lack of medical care for people who are incarcerated, and the reason medical and geriatric parole are so critical.

From my experience with [my daughter] Barbara’s health issues when she was incarcerated at the Maryland Correction Institution was that her health condition was not given the proper attention and care that most people would even give their pets. The medical staff at the institution weren’t very much help to her during her battle with cancer. The state’s policy towards the medical treatment of inmates is almost as if she was not a human being.” Danny Varner

In rare cases, when individuals meet the restrictive eligibility requirements, they can only be expected to survive a matter of days once released. Barbara was released to a convalescence center just twelve hours before her death, and before her father−traveling across the country—could get to her bedside.

Compassionate release approval in Maryland is rare; from 2015-2020, the governor only approved 9 medical paroles. This despite many cases where individuals pose a minimal risk to public safety and continued incarceration of the elderly and infirm results in a significant cost to taxpayers.

Maryland needs this key justice reform legislation to create a release value for its most infirm and vulnerable imprisoned population.



The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to reducing the use of incarceration and the justice system by promoting fair and effective policies.