The U.S. Parole Commission, which oversees some of the oldest and sickest people in federal prison, has been undercounting the number of inmates under its jurisdiction. The miscounting came to light when University of California law Prof. Chuck Weisselberg noticed an annual federal report that said the number of people in prison convicted before late 1987 had grown by 69 percent in one year — "inconceivable," Weisselberg said, NPR reports. He added, "These are senior citizens serving federal sentences,. They're the oldest and most vulnerable group of people in the federal prison system and they seem to have fallen through the cracks."
The commission was supposed to go out of business in 1992. Congress continues to extend its mandate every year, even though the panel that once had five members making decisions about federal parole release now only has two. "You have this agency that's operated in total darkness within the Department of Justice without any interest or oversight by Congress," Weisselberg said. "And then in the fall of each year when the commission is about to expire people panic and reauthorize the agency." The advocates are speaking out now because they don't want that to happen again this fall. They say there's plenty of time for the Justice Department and Congress to develop a plan for the few hundred older people in prison, perhaps to transfer those cases to judges. The Parole Commission told NPR it has changed the way they count these so-called "old law" prisoners to make it more accurate.