George Daniel

George Daniel

New regulations didn’t help George Daniel

George Daniel, 75, a non-violent drug offender, died July 6 in the middle of the 24th year of an unspeakably cruel and senseless federal drug sentence.

George was an obvious candidate for compassionate release, a program to let dying and severely ill inmates spend their finals days at home.

Among his many ailments, George had suffered a series of strokes, was partially paralyzed, used a wheelchair and walker, and spoke with slurred speech. He could no longer read or write.

After an investigative report by Pro Publica — “How Bureaucrats Stand in the Way of Releasing Elderly and Ill Prisoners” — the Bureau of Prisons released new regulations designed to increase compassionate releases for deserving inmates.  A tiny uptick in compassionate releases occurred.

But bureaucracies don’t change easily. The failure to release stroke victim George Daniel seemed to confirm claims that the Bureau of Prisons wasn’t following its own rules.

The Clemency Report filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see why George Daniel hadn’t been allowed to die among family and friends in Cumming, Ga. The BoP said it had five documents on the issue. It kept four secret. It released one: a memo from Angela P. Dunbar, warden of the federal prison in Butner, N.C.

The memo, written Dec. 5, 2013, said George had been deemed insufficiently sick to qualify for compassionate release.

“Your medical conditions are stable at the present and your life expectancy is indeterminate. You are not completely disabled, meaning your are not totally confined to a bed or a chair more than 50% of waking hours.” (Read full memo.)

The good news is that George was denied entirely on medical grounds, however questionable. He was not rejected because he was serving a life sentence.

BoP regulations do not deny compassionate release to the federal system’s 5,500 lifers, most serving drug sentences. Yet the BoP isn’t known to have ever released a lifer, making prisoners and families wonder if it’s unofficial policy to make all drug lifers die in prison. BoP has declined to clarify the issue.

The fact that it is necessary to discuss whether non-violent drug offenders doing outrageously long prison sentences are entitled to the dignity of dying at home shows how far our legal system has strayed from its essential goal of creating a just society.

The drug war is not a victimless crime. Those who execute the drug war lose pieces of their own humanity every day, making it seem normal to lack compassion for elderly stroke victims.

R.I.P George Daniel.

George with his son, daughter-in-law and grandkids

George with his son, daughter-in-law and grandkids

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