A new report from Human Rights Watch calls on the federal prison system to make more and better use of a 1984 law that allows the release of terminally-ill inmates so they can die at home. Wisconsin has a similar state law that is also rarely used. One inmate has been trying for more than a year get approval for what is called a compassionate release.
The new report is titled "The Answer Is No". That's the answer most federal inmates with terminal illnesses get when they apply to be released to die at home. The report makes clear that wardens make the final decision in such cases. That decision hinges on a doctor's prediction of how long the inmate will live once released. But, the official reason given for denying a request by both state and federal prisons is usually one of two things. Either that the inmate is still a threat to public safety, or has not served a sufficient portion of his or her sentence. Sixty-seven-year-old Gonzalo de la Cruz has served 34 years of a life sentence for a 1978 murder in Milwaukee. Eighteen months ago, doctors predicted his untreatable liver cancer would kill him in six months. His sister Belen Juarez says she's ready to take care of him at her mobile home in Olivia, Minnesota, and state parole officials have approved his placement with her.
"They approved me and they sent it to Wisconsin, and Wisconsin also had approved it," she says. "But somewhere along the line it just went under all the papers or whatever. Don't know what happened . It's been over a year since he should have been out."
What happened is that the warden decided Delacruz needed to serve more time and wasn't close enough to death to warrant a compassionate release. He 's lost a lot of weight over the past year and has developed lymphoma . The medication paid for by the state cause frequent nausea and he gets around the prison grounds mostly in a wheel chair. He goes before the parole board again in two weeks. His sister says she's praying he'll be home by Christmas.