Hospice Within The Prison System

Hospice care provides chronically or terminally ill patients with the chance to live their final days in comfort and with dignity. But what happens if a terminally ill person is incarcerated? Does prison hospice care even exist?

It's an important question. As a result of longer sentences, the number of prisoners over age 55 increased by 280% from 1999 to 2016. Some experts predict that 1 in 3 prisoners will be over 55 by 2030. There are also younger prisoners who suffer from chronic illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, liver damage, or other often fatal diseases. All of this adds up to more people spending their last days behind bars.

Outside prison, hospice care patients often receive support from relatives, friends, and loved ones. Having support groups such as these help make patients more comfortable. They also allow for companionship and closure. However, terminally ill prisoners frequently do not have access to these same forms of support in their final days.

Several states do allow parole for certain prisoners in medical situations.   And under the FIRST STEP Act, which Prison Fellowship® advocated for in 2018, compassionate release—or early release based on extraordinary or compelling circumstances like a terminal medical condition—became more accessible to some federal prisoners. But most of the nation's elderly or terminally ill prisoners are cared for in the handful of correctional centers (about 3.5%) that have on-site prison hospice programs.

In some facilities with hospice programs, families are allowed to visit their incarcerated loved ones, which resembles the community hospice model. (PrisonFellowship)
Below are some resources available pertaining to hospice patients within the prison system:

COVID19 In Prisons
Surrogate Decision Making for Incarcerated Patients
Acute Care for Incarcerated Patients