New restrictions in California and Massachusetts are forcing medical parolees to be sent to prison and further reducing the number of people who are eligible for medical parole.

Since 2014, California has granted 210 medical paroles, which is significantly more than the majority of other states. Although it was announced in November 2021, the new policy will only be applicable to people who require the assistance of a ventilator to breathe. It is possible that 70 of those medically released parolees who are quadriplegic, paraplegic, or otherwise chronically disabled will be returned to prison as a result of this decision.

Medical Parole

As explained by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the change is being forced by a change in how the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is overseeing the enforcement of nursing home licensing requirements. To be more specific, the agency does not permit parole officers to place any limitations on inmates who are housed in approved institutions. CDCR, on the other hand, maintains a rule requiring the permission of a parole officer before leaving the facility, claiming it is necessary to ensure public safety. So they’re restricting access to medical parole to only those prisoners who are dependent on ventilators and are unable to depart on their own.

CDCR and Medical Parole

The CDCR, according to federal officials, has other options, such as relocating prisoners to facilities that are licensed by the state and are not subject to federal oversight. CDCR could also determine which medically paroled inmates could be safely left in community medical facilities without the need for a medically paroled inmate to be present.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts began reincarcerating offenders who had been freed on medical parole for COVID-19 in May 2021 after their symptoms had improved. After being granted medical parole and transported to a community hospital while being treated for a severe case of the disease, Nelson Cruz Rodriguez, 57, was found unconscious and intubated while receiving treatment. His condition improved over time, and after a brief period of confinement he was freed to continue therapy at his brother’s home. Then there was the unexpected arrest.

Medical Parole

“It was several parole officers, with backup from local police. It was a show of force. They all had guns,” said attorney Rebecca Rose, who represents Rodriguez, who was so fragile he had to be helped down the steps. Despite the fact that he had done nothing wrong, his parole officer informed him that he was no longer qualified for medical parole at the moment.

He had begun independent activities such as “showering and using the bathroom,” according to the parole board, which stated he had violated his conditions of release.

John Stote, 61, was placed under arrest the same day as Rodriguez. Stote was granted medical parole so that he could be admitted to the hospital and placed on a ventilator for COVID-19. He was arrested and returned to prison the night before he was set to be discharged from the hospital since he was no longer eligible for medical parole at the time of his arrest.

Coming Back To Prison

“He’s completely wheelchair bound” said attorney Mark Bluver, who represents Stote. “He has no function of his left hand or wrist. He cannot dress himself. He cannot put toothpaste on a toothbrush. He can’t cut his own food. He’s back on oxygen.”

“I think what the parole board did is lawless,” Bluver continued. He is still permanently disabled, according to the commissioner and the doctor who examined him, even if he recovers [from COVID-19], which, thank God, he has, according to the key condition that makes a person eligible for medical parole.

Sources: Associated Press, Corrections One, WBUR