Special Projects Fund

Project Title

Planning Medical Parole to Reduce Health Costs for Aging and Infirm Inmates

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Special Projects Fund

Date Awarded

November 11, 2015








The number of individuals aging behind bars is growing at an alarming rate—by 2030, experts estimate that prisoners ages 55 and older will account for 30% of the correctional population.

On average, it costs approximately twice as much to incarcerate someone age 50 or older ($68,270) than a younger, more able-bodied individual ($34,135)—and in some cases, it may cost up to five times more. Aging prisoners also are more likely to have chronic medical issues or catastrophic medical events, resulting in substantial expenses for medical care to older inmates. In New York State, medical parole can be granted to prisoners with terminal health conditions or significant and permanent nonterminal conditions or diseases. This population is so physically or cognitively debilitated or incapacitated that there is a reasonable probability they are no longer a danger to society; however, very few eligible prisoners are released through medical parole. In 2015, NYHealth awarded the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera Institute) a grant to form a planning project to assess medical parole implementation in New York State.

Under this grant, Vera Institute laid the groundwork for the use of medical parole in New York State and established a pilot program to approve medical parole applications. First, Vera Institute assessed current New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) policies and practices for medical parole and identified opportunities for improvements. It examined which policies could better support medical parole and estimated the number of prisoners who may be eligible. Vera Institute then worked to develop appropriate community-based placement opportunities for patients, primarily among skilled nursing facilities. It developed a screening tool to identify prisoners who were potentially eligible, developed an in-depth clinical assessment of medical conditions and post-release care needs, and identified community-based service providers willing to house medical parolees. Finally, Vera Institute supported DOCCS’s implementation and capacity to use the screening and assessment tools and increase the use of medical parole. Vera Institute documented the experience and lessons learned in a report to serve as a blueprint on the use of medical paroles for aged and infirm inmates.

Read the report, “A Question of Compassion: Medical Parole in New York State.”