Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Prison Hospice.

Over the summer the New York Times did an illuminating story on prison hospice facilities. Today the USAToday newspaper follow up with their own. Here's a clip:

The hospice programs underscore the challenges prison officials face in taking care of a rapidly graying prison population. The number of state and federal prisoners age 50 or older has soared from 41,586 in 1992 to more than 167,000 in 2005, McAdoo said. About 3,300 inmates die in prisons each year, she said.

"Tougher sentencing laws have created a huge growth in the number of aging inmates and people who aren't going to get out before they die," McAdoo said.

Before the programs, inmates died alone in prison medical wards and often suffered through painful ailments, said Fleet Maull, a former inmate who helped start the nation's first hospice program at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. The programs also save money by reducing hospital visits, he said.

"When we started, people were being given aspirin for bone cancer," said Maull, who served 14 years on drug trafficking charges. "Today, people can have a self-administered morphine drip. We've figured out how to do these things in a safe and a compassionate way."

No prison in the USA houses more life-term inmates than Angola, where 3,712 inmates — 74% of the prison population — are serving life sentences, Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot said. More prisoners die a year at Angola (32) than are paroled (four).

Inmates volunteer for the program, which has served 134 prisoners since it began in 1997. They are taught basic hospice practices and how to counsel a dying inmate. Gary Tyler, 51, who's serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, joined in 1997 after witnessing four of his friends die.

"I didn't want the situation I'm in to dehumanize me," he said. "Everything I thought about life has changed. This program has reassured me of my humanity."

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