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A yellow and black guitar rests on Raymond Kaliman’s lap. It was Gibson, who used to play in the prison choir before his health started failing.
His eyes can’t see anymore and he doesn’t move when he tries to look at the instrument. He can no longer speak and his mouth does not move to make words or music.
Friends and family gathered around him aren’t sure if they know he’s in a nursing home in Philadelphia rather than a state prison 190 miles away.
But after a few seconds, his hand moved. His thumb played the E string for the first time in years. he is at home
Spotlight PA The Kaliman incident was first reported in March 2022.. After this article was published, the Abolition Law Center, a public interest corporation specializing in “merciful release” cases, referred her sister, Mary Buffalo, to an attorney at another firm.
As Kaliman’s health deteriorated, Buffalo wrote letters and phoned state officials, doing everything in his power to get his brother out of prison so he could receive better medical care. But it was his dire condition — his blood cells turned cancerous, his powerful voice weakened to a slurred whisper — that ultimately won him his freedom.
Kaliman returned home on September 26, two weeks after Buffalo petitioned the court for mercy release, a special parole for the sick and dying. He spent seven weeks in hospice care outside a Philadelphia prison for the first time in 40 years, unable to communicate with his sister who took him there. Mr. Kaliman passed away on November 16th.
Buffalo was spoiled for choice. Her decision to petition for her compassionate release meant agreeing to end her years-long fight for better care for her brother. In Pennsylvania, in order to be eligible for parole, as Kaliman did, incarcerated individuals must stop receiving treatment that might improve their condition.
Buffalo had to make the choice to let his brother die.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Thank you, you did a really good job!’ That made me feel good,” she said. “But it’s been a very long battle. My only hope and wish is that it doesn’t take that long. He could have just come home – he could have been healthy for a year and stayed home. I would have been happy if I had come back.”
By the time Buffalo filed Kaliman’s petition, his health had deteriorated significantly, said attorney Katherine Trama. Because he couldn’t get the care he needed inside the prison, he made multiple trips to the emergency room outside.
In the years before his release, Kaliman lost his vision, speech, and motor skills. He now has bedsores that will never heal, Trama said.
“That’s what it takes to give someone relief, but that’s just too narrow,” she said. “We are very happy that he is with his family during this time, but that is not enough in such difficult circumstances. This should not have happened.”
Some Pennsylvania lawmakers agree, and in October law A bill to amend Pennsylvania’s compassionate release law has passed a state House committee, but previous attempts have failed.
Current compassionate release laws are intended to provide sick and elderly inmates with a way to spend the rest of their lives released from prison. In fact, this document is written so specifically that Kaliman is one of only 48 people who managed to use it in his 14 years.
The law allows release only for people who are too sick or too old to walk and have less than a year to live.
Because of the narrow criteria, the state has received few petitions since the Legislature established the process in 2009. In many cases, the petitioner also dies before the case is brought before a judge.
The process is unclear even to lawyers like Trama, who regularly represent clients in civil rights litigation and defense cases. Until Kaliman’s case, lawyers had never heard of such a thing, much less represented someone imprisoned on a petition. She said Trama had received a “huge improvement” from ALC lawyer Rupally Rashatwar.
“I was always afraid that it would be a day too late,” Trama said.
Lachatoire and our firm have driven an increase in the number of successful petitions in recent years. Between 2009 and his 2020, before the ALC began intensive operations, he had 24 petitions granted. In the past three years alone, courts have granted release to 24 people, almost half of whom he represents at ALC.The current company is partner We worked with students from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law to help file the petition.
But the small increase in successful cases still represents a portion of the aging population receiving expensive medical care for chronic and serious health conditions inside state prisons.
State officials say the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections treats people 50 and older who are considered seniors because they age at a faster rate than those on the outside due to lack of access to health care and atypical living conditions. It has 10,300 people in prison. These people make up more than a quarter of Pennsylvania’s prison population, and keeping them incarcerated has not only a human cost but also an economic cost.
According to the ministry, their medical costs are significantly higher than those of younger generations. Nearly all inmates over the age of 50 receive medication, which costs $34 million a year, the department said. The average annual drug cost per person under the age of 50 is approximately $1,921, compared to $2,928 for inmates over the age of 50.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), would expand eligibility for release and reduce both the human and economic costs of keeping older people in prison. want to be.
Under Kinsey’s bill, inmates over the age of 55 who have served at least half of their minimum sentence or 25 years of a life sentence would be able to apply for medical parole. or have a terminal, chronic, or debilitating health condition. In that case, the application would need approval from the parole board, not a judge’s decision.
Mr Kinsey told Spotlight PA that people over 50 in prison are less likely to reoffend outside.
“Life there is tough,” he said. “I’m not going to go out and run around like it’s the wild west.”
The bill would also require prisons to notify families and attorneys if an inmate is diagnosed with a terminal health condition and to inform them of their eligibility for compassionate release.
The bill passed the state House Judiciary Committee with support from all Democrats and one Republican, Paul Schemel (Franklin County). But even if the bill passes the full House, it would need approval by the state Senate and possibly the state Assembly Judiciary Committee, where a similar bill died last session.
The committee, chaired by state Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Lucerne), did not bring the compassionate release bill to a vote before the end of the session. In a 2022 Spotlight Pennsylvania interview, she said she supports changing the law but is concerned about the lack of job options for people with no remaining family ties. and said she plans to introduce her own bill. She never did.
She was appointed this year and said: “I’m not in a position to speculate on what the House will do or what the bill it will pass will be. It’s clear that there is increased advocacy in some areas, but the community is Concerns have been expressed about the ability to accept the release. There are clearly practical issues that need to be addressed before any legislation moves to the governor’s desk.”
Baker’s Republican colleagues in the state Legislature expressed concerns about the new bill, primarily because they feared the expanded eligibility would burden correctional officials and parole boards.
State Rep. Katie Krank (R-York) said the conditions were too broad, allowing parole boards to accept applications from people with manageable medical conditions, rather than people with serious health concerns such as cancer or kidney failure. He argued that there was a possibility that there would be a rush to the meeting.
“I believe that these people can agree that we can move forward with the bill in terms of targeting them, supporting them, believing in salvation and having compassion,” she said. . Targets should be set in the bill. ”
But for the families of people aging in prison, the new law means new opportunities.
Sabrina Whitaker’s father, Vernon Beth, spent most of his life behind bars, entering prison for murder in 1975 when she was just 3 years old. However, she said that her father never lied to her and maintained a close relationship throughout her life.
When her father developed cancer, Whittaker tried to petition for his release on her own. She failed because, despite her diagnosis, her father was still able to walk. Like Buffalo, Whittaker had to wait until his father was close to death.
Mr La Chattoire, the ALC’s lawyer, applied in September 2022 for Mr Bess to be released after spinal surgery left him unable to walk. Beth served 47 years in prison for her actions. He lived outside for only a few months.
Before the judge approved his plea, the family of Frank Collins, whom Beth killed, also weighed in. They said in a statement through their lawyer that their father had also been taken away from them.
But they believed Beth had remorse and that her loved ones would want to be by her side in the end. They said he would not have opposed his release if his death was imminent.
Beth was released from prison in September 2022 in a coma. He woke up as a free man. He passed away in February with Mr. Whittaker at his side.
“It was so powerful to see people being so compassionate,” Whitaker said. My life will never be the same because of those people. ”
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https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2023/11/pennsylvania-prison-release-sick-elderly-compassionate-release-success-rate/ PA man released from prison after Spotlight PA report · Spotlight PA