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Terminal Medical Conditions
Terminally-ill prisoners without a specific life expectancy prognosis are eligible for compassionate release. Prisoners diagnosed with incurable diseases with 18 months life expectancy are also eligible.
Debilitated Medical Conditions
Prisoners who have suffered debilitating injuries are eligible for compassionate release. However, they must have no hope of recovery and require the care and assistance of others to be eligible.
Advanced Age Prisoners
Prisoners experiencing deteriorating physical or mental health due to age are eligible. Elderly prisoners must be at least 65 and have served at least 75 percent or ten years of their sentence to qualify.
Prisoners sentenced for crimes committed after November 1, 1987 who are 70 years old and have served 30 years of their sentence also qualify for compassionate release as “New Law” elderly inmates.
A prisoner can be eligible for compassionate release due to family circumstances. The incapacitation of a prisoner’s spouse or the caregiver of their minor child is grounds for compassionate release. However, the prisoner must be the only available family caregiver for the minor child or spouse to be eligible.
The 2023 amendments
The US Sentencing Commission, on April 5, 2023, approved amendments to its federal sentencing guidelines that expanded the eligibility criteria for compassionate release. Among the new qualifying criteria are sexual abuse by correctional officers and excessively long sentences.
When the warden approves the request, the warden sends it to the Regional Director. The Director then refers the request to the Bureau of Prisons Office of General Counsel.
2. Submission of Request to the Bureau of Prisons’ Director
The Counsel seeks the opinion of BOP’s Medical Director for requests based on medical reasons. For requests based on non-medical reasons, the Counsel refers the request to the e Correctional Programs Division.
The General Counsel then forwards the request to the Director of BOP for a final decision.
3. Request Denial or Approval by the Bureau of Prisons’ Director
Upon approval, the General Counsel will draft a compassionate release motion for the prisoner and forward it to the U.S. attorney to file it with the sentencing court.
Before the passage of the First Step Act in 2018, only the federal BOP could file a compassionate release motion. The First Step Act allows inmates to file a motion for compassionate release in a federal court if the BOP fails to file a motion on their behalf or fails to process their request within 30 days of receipt. However, inmates must exhaust all administrative rights to appeal to qualify.
- High Rates of Denial
Compassionate release has a high potential to reduce incarceration, but only a few applicants secure it. According to Data Report by U.S. Sentencing Commission Compassionate Release, 85% of compassionate release motions were denied by courts between October 2022 and March 2023. In Georgia, the denial rate for the same period is a staggering 95%.
- Absence of Unified Eligibility Criteria
The eligibility criteria for compassionate release are not unified. Some states allow debilitated medical conditions as grounds for compassionate release, while others don’t. Moreover, the BOP and the sentencing commission have different qualification criteria.
What Is the Difference Between Compassionate Release and Parole?
A parole is an offender’s release before the end of a sentence based on behavioral condition. However, compassionate release is based on an inmate’s medical or family conditions. The likelihood of a released inmate on compassionate grounds to commit crimes is low due to their debilitated state or terminal illness.
Can Compassionate Release Be Granted for Non-Medical Reasons?
A compassionate release grant is attainable for non-medical reasons. Prisoners can secure compassionate release due to age-related and family conditions.