Illness among Women in Prison and
We are your sons and daughters, and as exasperated and dispirited as you
may become, remember: We do not want to die. We do not want to die in
here alone, and possibly under questionable circumstances. Help us, love
us, teach us, and pray for us, please.
-Prisoner living with HIV/AIDS at the
California Medical Facility at Vacaville, 1992
For two decades, prisoner advocates have argued that prisoners incapacitated and disabled with serious illness should be granted early release to be cared for and to die with family and friends in their communities. This chapter presents an overview of compassionate release legislation, beginning with its history and a discussion of how women in prison are disproportionately in need of such policies, and ending with an argument for its expansion and the need to address women's health care concerns in our communities while challenging imprisonment.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in prisons and jails in the mid-1980s served as the original catalyst for prisoners, legal advocates, family members, legislators, and correctional officials to raise the issue of early release for seriously ill and dying prisoners. All over the country, particularly in states with high HIV rates (for example, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and California), large numbers of people in prison were dying of HIV-related illnesses behind prison walls, alone and without access