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Early release rules for prisoners at end of life may be “discriminatory,” say doctors

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 12 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4140

Linked opinion

Early release rules for prisoners at end of life need reform

  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Doctors have called for changes to the rules governing when terminally ill prisoners can be released early on compassionate grounds, amid concern that the current approach is discriminatory.

Data obtained from the Ministry of Justice, shared with The BMJ, indicate that prisoners in England and Wales at the end of life are more likely to be granted early release on compassionate grounds if they have cancer than if they have other conditions, say clinical researchers who examined the data.

Under current legislation the secretary of state for justice can grant early release where there is a risk of harm to the prisoner from ongoing imprisonment, potential benefit through release, a low risk of recidivism, and adequate arrangements for safe care in the community. But, crucially, the prisoner’s death must be expected “very soon,” and HM Prisons and Probation Service considers this to be within three months.1

Jim Burtonwood, a palliative care specialist, GP, and MSc student at Cardiff University, who led the research, said the current rules meant that timescales often became too tight for a successful application for early release if an acknowledgment of terminal decline was delayed or there was prognostic uncertainty.

He told The BMJ, “The …

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