View Full Version : MS Corrections officials may release of some terminally ill convicts

07-27-2004, 08:37 AM

July 27, 2004

Terminally ill inmates may be released; savings cited

By Jacob Bennett (

As many as 20 terminally ill convicts, including some serving life sentences, could be released from prison based on a new law officials say could eventually save taxpayer money.

Mississippi Department of Corrections officials believe most of the prisoners, who are in the end stages of diseases, such as cancer and lung disease, will be bedridden, too sick for the remainder of their lives to cause harm.

The release of 20 inmates could reduce the MDOC's tight budget by about $400,000 in one year, including housing and medical costs. But it could be a couple of years before the new law makes a substantial difference.

The burden for most patients still will fall on taxpayers. Most, if not all, of those released would qualify for other government assistance programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid.

The terminally ill inmate eligible for release must have served a year and can't be a sex offender. The release will work the same as a parole. The inmate can be brought back to prison if he or she commits a crime.

MDOC physicians' recommendations will be forwarded to Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps for the final decision.

Epps said he didn't know if the number of inmates released would reach as high as 20. He's evaluating six cases, he said. Victims' families will be notified before a decision is made, he said.

"We realize these people have committed a felony," Epps said. "It's unfortunate they got sick, but we still have to carry out public safety."

Chester Johnston is among those doctors have recommended for release. He was given a life sentence in 1990 in the June 1976 death of Ralph Taylor Edwards Jr., who was robbed and shot in the head in his car near Indianola. Johnston also is serving a 45-year sentence for raping his neighbor in Jackson in March 1978 and a two-year sentence for a 1977 forgery in Claiborne County.

Attempts to reach Edwards' family were unsuccessful.

Doctors gave Johnston, who has cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis, five years to live in 1997, said his wife, Cindy.

In March, Chester Johnston was diagnosed with liver cancer.

"He has so much wrong with him," Cindy Johnston said.

Cindy Johnston is afraid his body will give out before he is released. He was hospitalized Friday, she said. .

"I don't want him to die in there," Cindy Johnston said. "If he does get sick, I won't be able to see him. He'll die alone."

The state pays St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services to provide medical, dental and mental health care services to offenders at the rate of $5.76 per inmate per day, regardless of their condition.

Health care for the most seriously ill inmates tops $1,200 a month, said House Corrections Committee Chairman Bennett Malone. Reducing those costs could allow MDOC to negotiate a cheaper per diem for each inmate, he said.

"They can't justify wanting that money if we keep that price down," Malone said.

Malone said he first drafted the medical release bill after watching an acquaintance from his hometown die in prison. He would not be more specific out of respect for the family, who he said probably doesn't know about the new law.

Louisiana has had a similar medical release law for several years, said Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Since 1992, Louisiana hasn't paroled more than seven terminally ill inmates in a single year. She couldn't say how much those paroles saved the state. "They usually don't have a lot of time left when they are released," Laborde said.

Epps said Mississippi released 20 inmates in the 1990s under a similar program. There were no problems from those released, he said. All have since died.

"There's really no rhyme or reason for us not to let them be with their families," Malone said. "When a person is on his deathbed, it's more important to let him die with some dignity."

07-27-2004, 08:46 AM
Dang, Amy, you are on top of things. My sister just called me and told me she heard that on the radio and I looked it up and was going to post it. Keep up the good work.


07-27-2004, 03:00 PM
Thanks girl. I gotta help out where I can. I would hate for someone to not be able to find the information.