Justice advocates ask for more ill inmates to be released on medical parole


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist MATT OLSEN


Posted on October 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 2 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Tuesday the Texas Civil Rights Project demanding the state release more inmates who are seriously ill, and no longer a threat to society.

While there are laws in place that allow that to happen, some justice advocates claim it's not happening often enough. They cite the example of 62-year-old Donald Rash, who is serving 27 years for robbery in a Texas prison. His criminal record includes two other robbery convictions.       

During a news conference Tuesday morning, the Texas Civil Rights Project lobbied for his release.

Michelle Smith and Brian McGivern say Rash can barely walk and is in extremely poor health.

Rash has been eligible for medical parole since 2002 but remains behind bars.

“Mr. Rash is a shell of a man who deserved to be on medical parole and not wasting away in prison,” said justice advocate Michelle Smith. “He's not a danger to anybody and is barely alive.”

“We're talking about Mr. Rash today because obviously we care about what happens to him, but he's also a very graphic illustration of the basic dysfunction in a state agency that's contributing to the budget crisis in our state,“ said attorney Brian McGivern.

They say it's time for Texas taxpayers to stop footing the bill for inmates who should be out of prison and on medical parole.

“In Mr. Rash's case, he's a U.S. military veteran. He'd be eligible for free care through the VA,” McGivern said.

According to the Texas Civil Rights project, the state spends almost $2 million every year on its 10 most medically expensive inmates. It claims that money could be better used elsewhere, such as paying for 82 wildland firefighters, 56 paramedics or 48 police officers.

“The board is very aware of what the state's budget situation has been,” said Harry Battson, a spokesman for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. “The board has increased its votes on parole this past year.”

Poor health isn't the only factor the board considers when deciding whether to grant a medical parole.

“It uses measurements to determine how likely it is for someone to have a successful parole, and so it makes decisions on a case-by-case basis,” Battson said. "The board's first and foremost consideration is always public safety.”

The state has paid tens of thousands of dollars each year for Donald Rash's medical care.

Last year about 100 Texas inmates were granted medical parole out of more than 300 requests.