Illinois second-to-last state to have medical release program for prisons

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A natural life sentence means a life sentence in Illinois — no matter what.

But lawmakers in Springfield voted to give prisoners at death’s door a reprieve.

Illinois will be the 49th state to institute a medical release program. It will allow inmates who are terminally ill to leave their prison cells to spend the last of their life with family and loved ones.

Illinois and Iowa were the only two states that do not have some form of medical release.

The bill was sponsored by Joe Coleman, an Illinois man who was sentenced to natural life in prison after stealing 640 dollars from a gas station clerk. He became terminally ill. His family — who he kept in regular contact with the whole time in prison — tried to apply for early release. The red tape surrounding the process caused the family to not make it in time.

Coleman died while his son was preparing to submit the final paperwork.

His family wanted to make sure that tragedy never happened to anyone else.

That’s sort of like the therapy for me that I need,” Beverly Coleman said. “Because I feel I mean, I go from crying and laughing, crying, because you know, I think about Daddy, and when I talked to him, and how much he always helped us and that I wasn’t able to help him.”

Coleman is not an outlier. Jennifer Soble, Director of the Illinois Prison Project, says this medical release policy will help plenty of other inmates.

“It happens every single day, the health care units in the prisons are absolutely filled to the brim with folks who are terminally ill, or wheelchair bound or have had strokes and are paralyzed. And that’s because Illinois until now has made it really, really difficult, almost impossible for a person to be released once the sentence has been imposed, no matter what’s changed in the interim.”

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