Civil Liberties

Grandparents in the Gulag


Debra Cupp, 60, stood in front of the U.S. Capitol on a hot day in July holding a handmade sign: "Ron Cupp died waiting on compassionate release, Jan. 3, 2017."

Her husband Ron had complained several times to prison doctors about pain in his gut. Each time, he was sent back to his cell with aspirin. When authorities finally examined him more closely, they discovered he had metastatic colon cancer.

Because he was too weak to make it to the prison visiting room, Debra didn't get to see her husband during the last three months of his life. She found out he'd died because the prison chaplain took it upon himself to call her. The Bureau of Prisons would not officially notify her of her husband's death for another two weeks. By that time, his ashes had already arrived in the mail.

In Washington, Cupp joined other people whose incarcerated loved ones had suffered while waiting for the government to determine if they were eligible for "compassionate release." That policy, which allows elderly and terminally ill inmates to go home ahead of schedule, is supposed to afford people the small mercy of finishing their lives among family and in relative peace. But the petition process, as described by family members, is arbitrary, inscrutable, and cruel.

Since 2014, at least 81 federal inmates died while waiting for the government to review their applications, according to Justice Department records obtained earlier this year by the criminal justice reform advocacy group FAMM. And while 49 states have provisions for compassionate release, a June report by FAMM found that very few elderly and sick prisoners actually benefit. In states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Kansas, the number of inmates granted compassionate release can be counted on one hand. Thirteen states do not keep records on the process, making it impossible to say how or whether it's used at all.

"It's cruel and wasteful to continue to incarcerate people who no longer pose a threat to our society," Mary Price, general counsel at FAMM, said in a statement.

The prison population in most states is rapidly aging, as inmates sentenced to decades behind bars during the tough-on-crime '80s and '90s now enter their golden years. The long-term health effects of incarceration can be devastating, meaning that many of them will need expensive and individualized care that American prisons are not equipped to provide.

Rather than training prison guards to do hospice work, Americans should ask policy makers to do a better job balancing justice and mercy.

NEXT: Are Teachers Really 'Not Paid for the Work [They] Do'? Time Says Yes, Reality Begs To Differ

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  1. “But the petition process, as described by family members, is arbitrary, inscrutable, and cruel.”

    But does that not describe nearly all functions of Government Almighty?

    1. That sounds a LOT like the laughable, were it not so deadly to veterans, VA Medical System.
      I recently discovered that the joke was on me for believing my government whom I swore to serve and defend 48 years ago had no intention of fulfilling their obligations. *sigh*

  2. Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Prisons keeps on building more FMCs – Federal Medical Centers, prisons for the aged and / or infirm. They use our tax dollars of course. Their bloated budget is profligate and downright sinful.
    The anecdotal evidence supporting the author’s position are legion. “Got brain cancer? Here, take two aspirin and call me in the morning” – said the “doctor” at FCI Phoenix who allowed an inmate to die of that excruciatingly painful disease. It took months for the poor man to expire. As always happens with the Feds, the doctor, the warden and a few medical staff were merely transferred. No One was ever fired.

  3. No.

    Public schools, for example, built the American middle class and promoted the social mobility that makes America great.

    An excellent article in the Washington Post today recounts this.

    1. Public schools, which in America, particularly CA, are amongst the worst in the developed world, for example, built nothing of value enjoyed by the American middle class and promoted the lack of social mobility that in the minds of leftists makes America anything but great.

    2. Look up some history, Rev Costco. Public schools were started for the express purpose of indoctrinating children against the evils of Papism; too many Irish and Italians crossing the border. It’s also the reason why abortions became illegal, as a way to increase the white Protestant birthrate.

      Government NEVER does anything for the good of the public. It ALWAYS does things for itself. What’s good for the government is only good for General Motors as long as General Motors contributes enough campaign funds; it has nothing to do with ordinary people.

    3. “An excellent article in the Washington Post today recounts this.”

      You’re a laugh riot, asshole.

    4. Government schools, use force against individuals. First they’ve a monopoly on funding via taxation, using force to take money form taxpayers. Second, they force students to attend. It’s an entirely uncivil and immoral endeavor because force is used. You might as well argue that the prison system help build the middle class and promote social mobility to make America great.

      The reality is that people built their lives and raised themselves up by their bootstraps in spite of the force used against them. Government is an evil, but a necessary evil because people aren’t angels. Which is why it needs to be limited to protecting our lives, our liberty and our pursuit of happiness, rather than used to take from some for the benefit of the people in government (which includes all those government employees in government schools). Free markets would do it far better.

      1. Nanny-Staters want to the 100% funded ability to brainwash your kids with propaganda so they grow up and vote for those slavers.

        Free market schools put a huge damper on that strategy and make competing ideas a common result. Bad for Socialism.

  4. I generally think we need a lot fewer felonies, especially for victimless crimes.

    However, I find it suspicious that the article fails to mention what Ron Cupp did to land himself in prison, as if that doesn’t matter. Did he kill someone?

    Prison is supposed to separate you from your friends and family. Do serial killers deserve to live their last days free? Their victims don’t get that privilege.

    This article makes a lot of assertions without backing them up. “But the petition process, as described by family members, is arbitrary, inscrutable, and cruel.” Well, Ciaramella, you’re supposed to be doing journalism here. How about you actually describe the policy to us, show us some reasonable statistics regarding how it is typically applied, and let us decide?

    This isn’t merely activism masquerading as journalism, it’s lazy activism masquerading as journalism.

    1. You raise interesting questions, especially re: what landed the deceased inmate in such straits. May I suggest that you do some research? In my experiences as a correctional administrator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I can tell you without reservation that the Federal Prison system is mostly concerned with the number of people they can employ – at bloated salaries no less.
      NOTE: The VAST majority of violent crimes are the bailiwick of the States. The Feds (DOJ) only step in when THEY can obtain an easy conviction, thus exaggerating their stats and (alleged) intrepidity.

      1. That all sounds believable, but as @Cloudbuster points out, the article is trying to persuade, so the onus is on the author to do the research and relate their findings in a compelling fashion. Many of us feel that omitting the offence undermines the article fundamentally, and if the author wants to dispute its relevance, then the onus is on him to make that case too.

        1. Even if it turns out he’s a serial killer with dozens of victims, that shouldn’t excuse the feds for giving him aspirin for cancer and the general lack of even basic medical care.

          1. AMEN!!!! However he was far from a serial killer – no violent crimes at all. He didn’t deserve his treatment.

      1. Wrong gentleman ….

    2. Cloudbuster-
      The article doesn’t specify why he was in there and while I can’t go into details – no he didn’t kill someone or anyone for that matter , it was a victimless crime that he was wrongly accused of and was to be released due a tainted trail and false imprisonment. He was my dad , he was my children’s grandpa. I can promise you the system failed him on multiple levels. I’m a Hospice Nurse and all I wanted to do was be able to get him home to get treatment or be able to die with dignity and respect surrounded by his family and for my mother to be able to say goodbye to him – for all of us to get that chance .We never got the closure we deserved , the closure I am able to give my patients and their families EVERY SINGLE DAY. Instead we received his ashes in a box in a the mail. How’s that for dignity. It’s sad.

      1. Tainted trial

  5. I am retired from criminal corrections. My career included several years working on the psych floor of what at the time was a modern jail in Seattle. I was raised in a prison town in Montana.

    Inmates in Montana’s prison pre-1970 were treated by inmate orderlies working for a doctor who came in once a week. These inmate nurses were invariably former WWII and Korea combat medics. They would do stitches, set minor bones (fingers commonly get broken in fights), and hand out medicines on schedule.

    The modern Seattle jail in 1987 came equipped with an X-ray department and a small lab to do common UA and blood stuff, plus a human car wash shower that street people were supposed to walk through so that med personnel would have an easier life plus reduce disease, infections, etc. None of that stuff was ever used. Lawsuits alleged care would be inferior to outside hospitals and liberal judges agreed. Even the showers were an invasion of privacy!

    The net result is that medical care for jail inmates became astronomically expensive immediately. Every inmate with a complaint gets transported under guard. I live in a nice house today because hospitals are so slow the guard detail always turned into overtime at $75/hr and it takes a long time to evaluate creative complaints. (Escape attempts abound on these excursions.)

    Overheard from a doc to a nurse: “This is like veterinary medicine. The patient talks, but you can’t believe anything!”

    1. While your points about escapes and prison medical treatment are important, if you are responsible for the care and custody of people, you have to give them medical treatment from real doctors.

      If the state and federal government doesn’t like it, stop incarcerating people as replacements for psych wards and drug treatment centers.

      If prisons only held violent people, the few remaining prisons could have a doctor on call which would be far cheaper and less risky for prisoner escape.

      Giving a drug offender a death sentence, because he is not given proper medical treatment, is not what America is about. It needs to end.

      1. Wooo-Hoo, go, loveconstitution1789, go!!!!

    2. I was able to represent some clients who successfully sued a state prison system.

      During discovery, my team found corrections officer were abusing the overtime system by activating riot alarms to get overtime and hazardous duty pay when no prisoners were actually hurting each other. A few instances might be guards preventing violence with quick thinking. Numerous instances indicated a pattern of false alarms.

      I bet you have some good stories.

  6. On the one hand, crime is crime, and if incarcerated for violent crime, well, too bad, you earned your incarceration the old fashioned way, deal with it.

    If the point of incarceration is to keep violent criminals away from the public, then past a certain point, it serves no purpose and just costs a lot of money. (But being released would probably cost the tax payers a lot more for the better health care they’d get from Medicare.)

    If the point of incarceration is to warn other criminals of what they can expect, then humiliation at the end of life is part and parcel of that deterrence. But it might be better served by showing that the incarcerators do have compassion and there might be some saving grace to paying your dues and reforming your life. Otherwise you’ve given just disincentives to turning yourself in, paying your debt, and reforming your life. It’s like the death penalty for relatively minor crimes — all you’ve done is make murder a cost-free footnote to their sentence.

    1. Most people in prison are for drug offenses or drug related crimes.

      Not giving people in your custody proper medical treatment is inhumane treatment.

  7. But the petition process, as described by family members, is arbitrary, inscrutable, and cruel.

    The government IS arbitrary, inscrutable and cruel. Just ask immigrants whose kids were kidnapped by Mrs. IKEA.

  8. What we need is a bucks-stops-here policy by which a single official – preferably an official accountable to the voters – has the power to ameliorate the strict rigor of the law in individual cases by granting compassionate release if the prisoner is entitled to it, whether Congress has made provision for such a situation or not.

    What official could that be? What would we call his power?

    1. President Trump invited some football players to suggest candidates for pardons, maybe the prisoners’ relatives should start lobbying the football players.

  9. The Roman justice system offered execution or exile as punishment for offenses.

    1. The NAZIs offered gas chambers, being worked and starved to death, having your liver carved out in small pieces, and having your skin turned into lampshades!

      1. Now the Socialists offer death by the Nanny state, the police state, drone murder, or lead tainted municpal water.

  10. What’s with the “gulag” reference in the headline? Was Ron Cupp in a forced labor camp for political reasons?

    1. Google Ronald Edward Cupp prison. I found an article on him from a few places, he was a drug dealer who delt in perecription drugs, meth, and heroin.

      1. From what I have personally heard through the grapevine, Ronald Edward was apparently also guilty of blowing on a cheap plastic flute w/o permission from a physician!

        For those of you who don’t want to be jailed by Government Almighty, I would remind you to NOT blow on a cheap plastic flute w/o a doctor’s permission!!!

        For more details, see , for EXACT details of what to NOT do!!!

        This has been a pubic service of and by the Church of SQRLS….

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