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Thursday, August 14, 2008

36 states release ill or dying inmates

North Carolina and Alabama have joined a growing number of states establishing programs that allow the release of dying or infirm prisoners to cut prison system health care costs.

Alabama's law goes into effect Sept. 1. It will allow inmates who are permanently incapacitated or terminally ill to be furloughed. It will also allow for the release of inmates 55 or older who have life threatening illnesses. About 125 of the state's 25,000 inmates will be eligible, Alabama Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen said.

Inmates considered for parole will be "the frailest of the frail and sickest of the sick," Allen said. North Carolina's legislation took effect June 10. Authorities are still assessing policies and procedures, state prisons system spokesman Keith Acree said.

In both states, inmates convicted of capital offenses and most sex crimes aren't eligible, Allen and Acree said.

A USA TODAY review of state department of corrections' policies found 36 states have some program allowing for the early release of dying or infirm prisoners. Before Alabama and North Carolina, Wyoming was the most recent to add such a program in March. Michigan and Montana added programs in 2007. [Mark Godsey]

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