Published November 2, 2015
COLEMAN, FLORIDA —”Both the number of elderly federal prisoners and their medical costs have skyrocketed. Those urging criminal justice reform agree. Elderly prisoners require special attention and care. But the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is failing in its responsibility to afford aging and chronically ill prisoners—prisoners like Leonard Peltier—with the health care they so desperately need,” said a spokesperson for the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee on Sunday, November 1, 2015
The 71-year-old Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who maintains his innocence, was convicted in connection with the shooting deaths of two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1977. Since the trial, the federal prosecutor has twice admitted that the government cannot prove Peltier’s guilt. Imprisoned for nearly 40 years—currently at a maximum security prison in Coleman, Florida—Peltier has been designated a political prisoner by Amnesty International. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, 55 Members of Congress and others—including a judge who sat as a member of the court in two of Peltier’s appeals—have all called for his immediate release.
“Prisoners have few healthy food choices under normal conditions, but the federal penitentiary in Coleman has been on lockdown for the past three days, and for the second time in less than six weeks. The last lockdown stretched to nearly three weeks, during which time Mr. Peltier was denied anything approaching a proper diet by which to properly manage his diabetes. His blood sugar was only coming under control when the latest lockdown occurred.”
A physician who conducted an independent review of Peltier’s medical records in 2000 concluded that Peltier’s overall medical treatment is below a reasonable standard of care.
Supporters say the situation is life threatening. After many years of high blood sugar, Peltier is at serious risk for kidney failure and the need for dialysis, blood vessel damage in the eyes that can lead to blindness, and nerve damage in the feet that could lead to the need for amputation. He already suffers from a heart condition and heart disease is the number one cause of death in people with diabetes.
“Unfortunately, this situation isn’t unique to Mr. Peltier. Many U.S. prisoners die prematurely because treatment is delayed or denied.”
According to Human Rights Watch, most elderly federal prisoners have already served a major portion of their sentences and are being unnecessarily held in prison. Their increasing age and infirmity and conditions of confinement change the calculus against continued incarceration and in favor of some form of release. Data show the release of these elderly prisoners poses a minimal threat to society.
The BOP can release Peltier due to his age and health status. His release from prison, supporters say, is the only way Peltier will receive humane treatment. But Peltier’s release from prison may ultimately depend on a grant of Executive Clemency by President Barack Obama.