I’ve been watching out for South Dakota’s implementation of “compassionate parole” for prison inmates ever since I learned it became state law this spring. The program, also known as compassionate release, has been implemented nationwide as a way for prisons to reduce health care costs among ailing, elderly inmates who pose little risk to public safety.
On Oct. 16, the South Dakota Board of Pardon and Paroles heard its first such case: Darwin Heuer, a 72-year-old man who had been sentenced in 1999 to 57 years in prison on one count of attempted second-degree rape and three counts of sexual contact with a child younger than 16.
Heuer is a former boot camp counselor who admitted to sexually assaulting six boys while they were serving time at the now-defunct Custer Youth Corrections Center, according to The Associated Press. State corrections officials couldn’t provide details about Heuer’s medical condition except to say “he had a serious illness from which he’s unlikely to recover and needs extensive medical care.”
His prison term ends in 2057, and he wouldn’t be eligible for regular parole till 2030.
On Friday, the parole board released its decision to grant Heuer compassionate parole. The decision took effect immediately, said corrections department spokesman Michael Winder.
Heuer remains at a nursing home in southeastern South Dakota, where he has been placed since late July, the state Attorney General’s Office confirmed.
Winder couldn’t disclose who will be shouldering Heuer’s medical bills. But, he said, state law requires that the health care expenses of an inmate on compassionate parole be paid either by the inmate or a third-party payer, such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, veteran’s assistance or private insurance.
Under South Dakota’s compassionate parole law, eligible inmates include those who are terminally ill, seriously ill and unlikely to recover, or need extensive or significant chronic medical care.
They should be at least 65 years old, imprisoned for at least 10 years for a Class 3 felony or below, or at least 70 years old who have served at least 30 years. They must not be serving a death sentence.