Inmates released, too sick to serve time

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LEXINGTON, Okla. -- The razor-sharp wire, 14-foot chain link fences and steel doors are a cage of sorts for some of Oklahoma's most dangerous felons.

Almost 1,500 men who have victimized society call Joseph Harp Correctional Center home.

We asked inmate James Price what he'd done, "Gosh, so many different things, I don't want to say. It wasn't just one thing."

Price, 73, has only served a fraction of his 650-year prison sentence.

He is a convicted child molester with dementia who's only hope to ever leave Joseph Harp Correctional Center is "medical parole."

Dominic Zales, health care orderly at Joseph Harp, said, "A lot of these guys who are elderly and have health issues, I don't see them being a threat to society."

In the last two years,158 inmates were considered for medical parole; 45 were approved, meaning they walked out of prison and right back into society. 

Victim rights advocate Tina Harman said, "You can be sick, you can be incapacitated, you can have a terrible disease, but you can still be a threat."

Department of Corrections officials said cost is a consideration.

Caring for Oklahoma's aging prison population is expensive with an annual budget of nearly $63 million for health care alone.

DOC Spokesman Jerry Massie said, "We have 1,000 specialty visits to hospitals every month so there is some cost obviously."

Joseph Harp established a medical annuity in 2007 to provide housing for Alzheimer patients, vision and hearing impaired and wheelchair-bound.

There are also four isolation cells for inmates with contagious diseases.

The prison nurse told us, "It's just like a mini hospital setting but long-term care at the same time."

Most of these men will die here but dozens will be released long before their sentences expire.

Harman said, "We don't want people being released just because they have a high prescription every month. Who cares if they're taking more pills? Who cares if it costs a little more? Victims don't care. Victims say do the time for the crime committed."

The Department of Corrections said early medical release is not taken lightly and public safety is paramount.

According to Massie, "Someone who requires constant medical care and is probably going to die in a fairly short period of time."

However, there are no grantees an inmate won't re-offend after medical parole.

It's the uncertainty that is so alarming to crime victims who assumed a lengthy prison sentence was their protection.

Harman said, "They can still be a bad guy from bed."

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