The Blog to Transform Advanced Care
Advancing Care through Innovation, Observation and Collaboration.
“The way prisoners die says more about us and our humanity than it does about the crimes of the imprisoned,”
– Marvin Mutch, Senior Advisor and Public Information/Policy Advocate for Humane Prison Hospice Project
Founded in 2015, the Humane Prison Hospice Project’s mission is to implement hospice care in prisons by supporting and training prisoners to be end-of-life caregivers. At Humane, we believe that the right to receive compassionate end-of-life care is a basic human right, and that providing access to hospice care in prisons highlights the love and goodness at the core of our existence.
Because of tough sentencing laws during the past several decades, there are burgeoning numbers of aging prisoners who are suffering, sick, and dying behind bars. These individuals typically die either isolated in their cold concrete cells, alone in the prison infirmary where they are not allowed to have visitors, or chained to a bed in a community hospital. Prison medical, custodial and security staff are not trained in how to deliver palliative end-of-life care, and across the US, only about 80 of approximately 2,000 state and federal prisons have dedicated hospice beds.
“Humane has a cost-effective model to change this, so that those incarcerated are treated with the compassion, care, and kindness that every human being deserves at the end-of-life,” says Lisa Deal, Humane’s Executive Director. Since 2017, Humane has worked inside San Quentin Prison in California, and has trained 14 inmates – who had already gone through a peer support program called Brother’s Keepers – how to be at the bedside of their dying peers and provide empathetic and compassionate comfort care. This model of care is transformative – for the one dying, for the inmate providing the care, and for the prison staff who witness this act of compassion and love. As one of our Brother’s keepers shared of his experience sitting along a dying peer: “His dying made me start to change. He was my friend. The person who took care of him, that was a good part of me.”
With our model of training prisoners to be caregivers for the dying in place, Humane is now ready to take this model to other prisons in California and across the country, to help them train a cadre of inmates to provide this care, and to develop integrated hospice programs. One by one, we hope to ensure that all individuals behind bars, no matter what they’ve done in their wounded lives, can leave this world feeling cared for and with dignity.
Simultaneous to this grassroots effort, Humane also works from the top down to increase public awareness, change attitudes, and advocate for policies that support our vision. Through public speaking at conference and forums, and before legislators and key policy makers, it is our hope that someday legislation will be in place that mandates hospice care as a basic right for everyone who is dying behind bars.
Humane also supports efforts for Compassionate Release, created to allow terminally ill prisoners to have sentences recalled and sent home to family or to a medical center to spend their last days. Sadly, though, most prisoners who apply for this release die before it is approved because of institutional and legal red tape.
With the growing interest in prison reform and restorative justice across our country, the team at Humane hopes to draw more attention to the critical nature of this work. As a 501(c)3 organization under Commonweal, we rely on the generosity of individuals and foundations who help make this work possible. Our partnership with C-TAC will help us in our efforts to raise public awareness about the needs of dying prisoners, and will provide support and collaboration around influencing policy agendas. It is our hope that someday, every dying prisoner will have access to compassionate care that will allow them to die with dignity and grace.