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The Compassionate Release program at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) permits certain inmates who no longer pose a significant threat to society to petition to be released from prison before their sentences are complete if they encounter extenuating circumstances that may merit an early release. This program allows federal prison inmates and their friends or family members to request reduced sentences or early release from the BOP for a variety of reasons, like the diagnosis of a serious medical condition or incapacitation of a spouse.
Federal law authorizes the Bureau of Prisons to allow certain inmates to request “Compassionate Release” which allows for early release from Federal prisons under “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. Additionally, the First Step Act may allow judges to release federal inmates during this pandemic, especially those with serious illnesses or conditions or those that are vulnerable to respiratory issues that can be particularly harmful if infected with the Coronavirus. If you would like assistance filing a motion for Compassionate Release, throughout Michigan, due to Coronavirus or COVID-19, please contact our office to discuss your specific case. Our consultations are free.
In 2018, the First Step Act was passed to make the justice system fairer and to facilitate inmates’ successful transition back to society. Consequently, those serving long prison sentences now have a new opportunity to file a court motion for compassionate release. Before this, inmates had to request early release directly from the BOP. The BOP would then agree to file a motion with the court requesting the inmate’s early release. Since the BOP rarely files motions for their inmates, they would essentially remain in limbo.
Now, if the BOP refuses their request, federal prison inmates, their friends and family members can petition the court for early release directly. This post describes some of the situations that may merit a compassionate release, how to successfully seek these concessions on the behalf of a loved one, as well as typical constraints to the program.
Inmates with “extraordinary and compelling circumstances”
The BOP and the U.S. Sentencing Commission both have standards outlining the several types of “extraordinary and compelling circumstances” for which one may seek a reduced sentence or early release. These are broadly defined, especially by the Sentencing Commission, and both may be mentioned in your motion to the court. Circumstances related to medical conditions for example, must be confirmed by a licensed physician in addition to the court and BOP personnel related to the case.
Only inmates who would not be a danger to their community will be released under the Compassionate Release Program. To measure this risk, many judges refer to the Bail Reform Act, which details what should be considered before an inmate is released. If, for example, the inmate was on bond before their trial, this may show that they don’t pose a significant risk to their community. Some of the factors to be considered include:
According to sentencing guidelines found in 18 U.S. Code § 3553, courts should also consider:
After serving a portion of the sentence, the answers to these questions will likely be different than they were at sentencing. Each request weighs each of these considerations differently to determine whether an inmate’s release is safe for his or her community.
Prior to filing a motion for compassionate release with the court, according to the First Step Act, one must fulfill one of these prerequisite requirements:
The BOP normally responds to early release requests and it usually rejects most of those requests. Before filing with the court, however, all “administrative remedies” must be exhausted. This means that the individual petitioning for early release must appeal the BOP’s decision up through the ranks until a “Final Decision” has been reached.
An inmate requests that the BOP files a motion for his or her early release:
After the final decision has been received and the request for early release has been rejected, the inmate is free to file directly with the court.
If the inmate may qualify for a compassionate release, a convincing case in support of your request is essential. Successful motions for release will achieve the following:
1. Demonstrate that “extraordinary and compelling reasons” justify an early release. Medical conditions may warrant a request for expedited review. Supporting documentation, like verifiable medical information or copies of the death certificate of the inmate’s child’s caregiver for example, are critical to building a compelling case for early release.
2. Substantiate that an inmate’s early release from prison is reasonable according to the standard sentencing guidelines and that it does not put the community at risk. If the condition is physically or mentally disabling, or the inmate was released on bond prior to their trial, for example, the inmate may pose significantly less risk to society. Highlighting character references and admirable behavior patterns can help to shore up a compassionate release request.
3. Proposed release plans that work to re-integrate the inmate after incarceration. Answer where the inmate will live and work upon release. If the request is based on a medical condition, show how the inmate will be treated and note who will cover those costs. If the inmate poses a risk to the community, a judge may consider stipulating that a curfew, home detention or location monitoring be enforced as a condition of the release.