Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States
Date:  07-03-2018

FAMM report found numerous barriers to compassionate release including "confusing rules,and unrealistic time frames"
From the FAMM report by Mary Price:


When prison officials finally allowed Lynn Atkinson to visit her brother after she hadn’t seen him for quite a while, she was horrified. He was dying of cancer and had shrunk to about 90 pounds. “He was handcuffed to the bed and his legs were shackled,” Lynn says. “I’ll never forget it walking in there. I was just like, ‘Oh my god, this is a horror show.’ Where do they think he’s going? He can’t even walk.” Bernard “Bernie” Mulka was serving a sentence of 16 years in a Connecticut state prison for two bank robberies. He was 11 years into his sentence when he learned of his terminal diagnosis. Lynn heard from his nursing staff that he could be eligible for release, and she wanted to bring him home to die. She wasn’t aware of any official process, so she just started writing and calling, trying to get someone’s attention. “I was writing letters to the governor, letter after letter. I can’t tell you the letters I wrote, and nobody ever responded,” Lynn says.

Luckily, one of her co-workers talked to her brother, a lawyer at Robinson & Cole. The firm took up Bernie’s cause. In December of 2013, Bernie’s lawyers made a formal request for his release. Lynn did what she could to help, while also trying to keep track of her brother’s health. “I would call the prison to check on him, because by now he was really, really sick, unable to walk, and they’d be like, ‘You know what? We’re busy.’ Click. They would hang up on me.” After he was transferred to the prison hospital, she was not allowed to visit him. In January 2014, the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles officially denied Bernie’s request for release.

The lawyers continued to try every avenue of possible legal relief. Eventually they obtained a court hearing. Everyone in the courtroom, including Lynn, fell silent as Bernie was rolled in. He could barely sit up in his wheelchair and could not even stay alert throughout the proceeding. The following day, Lynn was finally allowed to visit Bernie, and, a few days later, his attorneys called Lynn to tell her that Bernie would be released. Soon after, he died at his father’s house, Lynn by his side. To this day, she is not sure by what process he was released.

Lynn is grateful that her brother made it home to die, but she hasn’t been able to shake her anger about the process. “I am a pretty strong person, but this really almost broke me. People shouldn’t have to go through this. It can really affect you when your family is dying in prison and there’s nothing you can do. I think that’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had, worse than anything else. He’s going to die, he’ll be dead in a few months anyway, so why can’t he just come home? It’s not just inhumane for the person who’s in jail and experiencing it—but even more for the family. That’s not right.”

Read the full report here.