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December 4, 2013

"How Bureaucrats Stand in the Way of Releasing Elderly and Ill Prisoners"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new ProPublica piece about (the paucity of) compassionate release in the federal criminal justice system.  Here are excerpts:

The government has long been criticized for rarely granting compassionate release. This August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department would try to change that by expanding criteria for who can apply.

Under the new guidelines, compassionate release can be granted not just to prisoners who have terminal illnesses, but also to those with debilitating conditions.  Prisoners who need to serve as caregivers for family members may now also seek reductions in sentencing.  And for the first time, elderly federal inmates who aren’t necessarily dying or incapacitated can apply to be let out early.

Holder touted the compassionate release initiative as one way to cut down on the “astonishing” federal prison population, which has grown by nearly 800 percent since 1980.

But even if the changes enable more inmates to apply for compassionate release, prison officials still have almost total discretion over who is approved.  A federal prison’s warden, as well as the Bureau of Prisons’ regional director and central office must sign off on an inmate’s application before it is passed on to a judge.  Any of those officials can reject applications for a number of reasons, from a perceived risk of recidivism to concern for what’s best for a prisoner’s child....  There is no process for inmates to appeal those decisions in court.

Many advocates say they expect eligible inmates will remain behind bars despite the changes.  “I don’t believe it’s going to change at all,” said lawyer Marc Seitles, whose client was denied release despite terminal cancer.  “It’s still the same people making decisions.”

In September, Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels said he predicted expanding eligibility would result in the “release of some non-violent offenders, although we estimate the impact will be modest.”  (The agency declined to make Samuels available for comment to ProPublica.)

As of October 29, The Bureau of Prisons had approved and passed along 50 compassionate release requests to judges this year. That’s up from 39 in 2012 and 29 in 2011. It’s impossible to know if the overall rate of approval has increased, as the federal Bureau of Prisons hasn’t released the number of inmates who have applied.

The Bureau says it recently started to track inmate requests, after an Inspector General report earlier this year excoriated the department for failing to do so. The report also found most inmates didn't even know the program existed.

The expansion of compassionate release was motivated in part by the rising number of sick and elderly inmates incarcerated in the U.S. As of 2011, there were over 26,000 inmates over 65 in state and federal custody. And as the elderly population in prison grows, so do their medical bills. Housing an inmate in a prison medical center costs taxpayers nearly $60,000 a year — more than twice the cost of housing an inmate in general population.

Many lawyers and prisoner advocates have said the “jailers are acting as judges” by rejecting most compassionate release cases without ever passing them onto the courts for a final decision. “The Bureau of Prisons should be letting judges have the opportunity to decide every time extraordinary and compelling reasons come to their attention, and [they are] not doing that,” said federal public defender Steve Sady, who has written extensively on the issue and represented clients requesting early release. “We believe that, under the statute, the sentence is for the judge to decide.”

Prisons spokesman Edmond Ross said in an emailed statement that “Congress gave the [Bureau of Prisons] authority” to decide which inmates should be granted release. “Review includes deliberation on the most important factor, ensuring that an inmate's release would not pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community,” he said. “This must be considered before any request is submitted to a court.”

Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, says prison officials are ill-equipped to make those kinds of decisions. Prison officials’ “job is to keep people locked up. Identifying people who should no longer be incarcerated is just not what they do,” she said....

Prisoner advocates at Human Rights Watch and other organizations have proposed allowing inmates to go before a judge to appeal rejections. “Unless there’s an institutional change or a criteria that they have to follow, this will never change,” Seitles said.

December 4, 2013 at 06:43 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Eric Holder seems prone to making grandiose announcements of reform that never really pan out. I'm still waiting for prosecutors to stop alleging drug amounts in indictments.

Posted by: C.E. | Dec 4, 2013 11:51:34 PM

C.E. --

Wouldn't it be better as a matter of principle if indictments were fully truthful and forthcoming, let the chips fall where they may? Isn't being fully truthful and forthcoming what we should expect from prosecutors' offices?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 5, 2013 8:56:20 AM

Don't necessarily have a problem with so-called compassionate release: coming as it frequently does after the prisoner has served a rather lengthy term, it doesn't seem to much diminish the deterrent or retributive value of the sentence.

But I do have a major problem with the idea that "Prisoners who need to serve as caregivers for family members" are eligible for the same release. Some such requesting prisoners are very likely truly needed at home, but any of us who have worked in criminal sentencing for any period of time know that, at sentencing, the sick uncle, grandmother, family friend (whom the defendant has generally not seen in some time) is all of a sudden in need of dire care that only the defendant can provide. Separating out the true cases from the false ones is likely too great an investigative burden on the judge and prosecutor.

Posted by: GP | Dec 5, 2013 9:15:32 AM

There is a conflict of interest. Empty the prison, lose the job. However, if a guard says, frail but still dangerous, one needs to defer to that daily knowledge of the prisoner.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 5, 2013 11:52:00 AM

Wouldn't it be nice if the inmate lovers would just come out and say that LWOP is a sham instead of insisting that they are "tough on criminals" and then doing everything in their power to make sure no one actually serves LWOP (or anything approaching a "harsh" sentence)?

We could have a much more fruitful discussion if they were just honest about their intentions.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 5, 2013 12:41:54 PM

In my experience, there is a built-in conflict of interest between correctional people and those they confine. I believe this decision should be turned over to an independent Risk Control Board. Risk is the only question at issue in cases of this kind.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Dec 5, 2013 2:43:27 PM

"They send you here for life, and that's exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway."
-- Red Redding, The Shawshank Redemption.

Posted by: C | Dec 5, 2013 2:58:18 PM

TarlsQtr --

And that's not the half of it.

Once they get their way on this, they'll be defining "elderly" as 50 and "ill" as having a persistent cough.

These people simply do not believe in punishing criminals, who are looked upon, not as having done anything wrong, but as the helpless (if not noble) victims of A Really Mean Society.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 5, 2013 5:34:14 PM

Bill: If the left believed what you said, we cold respect their views however mistaken. What you are saying is the masking ideology for generating government make work jobs, so it is stated in bad faith, as a pretext to grow government and make a salary.

You and I are actually arguing against our economic interest. If crime were to end, we could lose substantial income if not our respective jobs. People arguing against their own economic interest have the morally superior territory in the debate.

I have proposed the making the interests of crime victims more in concert with those of the lawyer by statutorily permitting tort liability of government entities who fail to perform within the standard of due care, as established by practitioners. For example, the Supreme Court held a woman who was murdered by her husband after she presented the judge's order to the police ordering the husband to stay away, which he violated. They refused to enforce it. He killed her. Because of the judge's order, that should have been a wrongful death verdict per se. The Supreme Court upheld the standard doctrine of no police duty to the person, but only to the city as a whole. The reason for the police is to protect the individual, so that doctrine is fictitious.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 6, 2013 3:27:54 AM

@Tom McGee,

With all due respect, I have had enough of technocrat "Blue Ribbon Commissions" running/ruining this country. I am convinced that you can find the biggest idiots in the country at an Ivy League homecoming celebration.

@C-Sure, let's make policy based on a line from a movie. Funny how they never concentrated on the crimes of the people in that movie...

@Bill-Agreed. And their perspective is legitimate, just wrong. I only wish that they would be truthful about it so that we can have an honest debate. If they have to lie about their true intentions, then they should question their policies.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 6, 2013 12:17:38 PM

TarlsQtr,

I don't understand your disrepect for expertise. Isn't it telling that other Western industrialized countries have almost orders of magnitude lower incarceration rates AND lower crime rates? One thing most of those systems have in common is the use of expert bodies that have some insutlation from political pressure generated by those who lack the sophistication to make cost benefit evaluations or, frankly, are bitter because they work hard and their lives have not gone as well as those with more expertist. You, Supremacy Clause, Bill Otis, and those of a similar ilk seem dedicated to trying to enable the no-nothings, racists, and other destructive forces in our society that have led to our shameful rates of incarceration and, frankly, sadistic policies of refusing to grant release to dying inmates or give parole consideration to those who have turned things around. Why not join forces with those looking for sensible solutions in a positive spirit, rather than mock "Ivyleaguers" or those trying to do something to address the embarassment that is our penal system.

Posted by: Mark | Dec 7, 2013 8:53:16 AM

Crime rates are higher in Europe these days, than in the US. That includes soaring crime rates by dark skinned immigrants in Scandinavia. So Arabs burn a 1000 cars in protest outside of Paris. Does that go into the crime count? No. Should it? Yes. Burning a car is not political speech. It is a crime. Crime rates among white, in suburban and rural areas of the US are comparable to those of Japan or Scandinavia. Scandinavians of Minnesota drink less than those in Scandinavia, and their crime rates are lower than in Europe.

My nanny's friend in Denmark, is raped at knife point. That is a rape rape. She goes to the police station. They rip up her report and throw it in the trash, because she knew the guy, or more likely to avoid increasing their rates of reported crime.

Before using Europe as a model, one has to discount their shadiness and manipulating of statistics.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 7, 2013 11:37:20 AM

Mark stated: "I don't understand your disrepect for expertise."

LOL Perhaps it is because "expertise" is defined these days as graduating from an Ivy League institution rather than, you know, actually accomplishing something. We used to elect/admire people that achieved greatness. Lincoln was a great thinker, yet no Harvard degree for him. Grant. Washington. Even Ike. Beginning with the Progressive slob Woodrow Wilson, that started to change.

Who do we elect now? Let's look at our last two Presidents. One oversaw a failure of a baseball team and a failed oil company. For the life of me, I cannot find a single meaningful achievement of our current president. He is such an "expert" that he did not know his infamous website would not work (according to him). He eventually had to bring in people who actually DID something at places like Oracle and Google to attempt to iron out his fiasco. The supposedly inbred, mouth-breathing, community college grad, troglodyte tea party members saw this coming years ago...

You stated: "Isn't it telling that other Western industrialized countries have almost orders of magnitude lower incarceration rates AND lower crime rates?"

Yep, they have had superior demographics (which is changing, hence their rates rising recently) and a peace dividend of living under our nuclear umbrella for the last 75 years.

You stated: "One thing most of those systems have in common is the use of expert bodies that have some insutlation from political pressure..."

In other words, less democratic to tell the hoi polloi what's good for them. And you Progressives claim that you are not tyrannical. How cute!

You stated: "...by those who lack the sophistication to make cost benefit evaluations or, frankly, are bitter because they work hard and their lives have not gone as well as those with more expertist."

Now that's a howler. My life is about as great as I ever could have expected. The only bitterness I have is at the condescending attitude that do nothing "intellectuals" need to tell convenience store clerks what is good for them.

Question. The economy sucks. Obamacare is a joke. Unemployment would be well over 10% if we were using the same formula as we did under Carter. My son will be a slave to Chinese debt. Whose fault is that? The "experts" or the convenient store clerks, UPS drivers, and the nurses of this country?

You stated: "You, Supremacy Clause, Bill Otis, and those of a similar ilk seem dedicated to trying to enable the no-nothings, racists, and other destructive forces in our society that have led to our shameful rates of incarceration and, frankly, sadistic policies of refusing to grant release to dying inmates or give parole consideration to those who have turned things around."

First, a tip. If you are going to claim superiority as an "expert", you should probably not misspell "know-nothing" in your diatribe.

Second, a sure sign that you are losing the debate is the need to turn to adjectives such as "racist", "sadistic", etc. to describe those disagreeing with you.

You stated: "Why not join forces with those looking for sensible solutions in a positive spirit, rather than mock "Ivyleaguers" or those trying to do something to address the embarassment that is our penal system."

LOL Yes, we should put more of the same people who created the "embarassment" (sic) in charge of fixing it. Did you learn such "logic" walking across Harvard Yard?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 9, 2013 9:41:25 AM

TarlsQtr --

1. It's all true. I am, as Mark says, a "no-nothing."

Do you love it?

Really, that's a classic. A guy who gets on his high horse about how sophisticated he is, and then misspells "know-nothing." If Mark has a sense of humor, he has to be laughing at himself right now. Of course, that's big "if."

2. It's also true that my deficient education and job experience have left me bereft of "the sophistication to make cost benefit evaluations." Finally, someone caught me pretending to have gone past eighth grade. Busted!

3. Mark continues that folks like you and me "are bitter because they work hard and their lives have not gone as well as those with more expertist."

I think he meant "expertise," but whatever. In one way, though, he gives me too much credit. I never worked that hard. Whatever I may have achieved was mostly the result of the gifts of others -- my parents primarily, my teachers, bosses and colleagues. Yet despite my lassitude, my life seems to have worked out OK. I'll know better when I bring my family out to my winter home in Hawaii in a few weeks.

I think Mark was trying to reprise Dear Leader's line about "clinging to their guns and religion," but Dear Leader did it with better cadence.

4. You say to Mark, "a sure sign that you are losing the debate is the need to turn to adjectives such as 'racist', 'sadistic', etc. to describe those disagreeing with you."

I must disagree on two grounds. First, I doubt whether he has sufficient self-awareness to think that he's EVER lost a debate. Second, even if otherwise, it's more likely that he uses those words simply because they're part of the standard anti-American vocabulary. He deploys them not to react to any particular debate, but simply because they came off the SDS mimeograph machine all those many years ago.

5. He says he wants us to join "those looking for sensible solutions in a positive spirit." This is a phrase which, read against his previous lashing of our dreadful, gruesome, really bad criminal justice system, needs to be translated as, "those looking to return to the 60's feckless belief in rehab that helped contribute to a two decades-long crime wave."

Not that he gives a hoot about crime, since that happens disproportionately only to, in those immortal Ivy League-loving words, ladies with big hair and trailer park trash.

There guys are just so filled with, uh, compassion.

So please, TarlsQtr, go sit in the corner.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 10, 2013 3:15:55 AM

What petty pieces of shit you two are. Pretty bad when it takes two of you to band up and bend to a level by picking apart someones mispellings. Only proves to everyone that your bigger asswipes than the guy your trying to portray as one. Nasty people and bullies at heart never change, try growing up and not being such flatheaded morons at some point during your lifetimes.

Posted by: critics choice | Dec 10, 2013 8:13:06 PM

cc stated: "What petty pieces of shit you two are. Pretty bad when it takes two of you to band up and bend to a level by picking apart someones mispellings."

Actually, 95% of my post was on topic, about 95% more than yours. The irony is that although you accuse Bill and me of "banding up", you essentially did the exact same thing.

That is all a red herring anyway. What REALLY bothers you is that someone of the same ilk was made to look very foolish. I do not care one bit about typos, but if you are going to claim intellectual superiority or "expertise" on an internet message board then you should know that it is "know-nothing" and not "no-nothing."

You stated: "Nasty people and bullies at heart never change..."

LOL Let me see. The person you are defending said we "lack sophistication," are "bitter", "no-nothing", "sadistic", "destructive", etc. You used terms such as "bullies", "petty pieces of shit", asswipes", "nasty" and "flatheaded morons."

That is quite a Mother Theresa imitation the two of you have going there. Please tell me more about how Bill and I can resist "bending to such a level."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 11, 2013 10:58:33 AM

Please try and come up with some new material. Your redundant red herring remarks, among others, in rebuttal to numerous commentators is really beginning to smell stale. Unless you two truly don't have assholes, don't be so shocked when someone tells you that your shit smells the same as everyone else's and is worth just about as much in the long run. Enjoy your week Mother Theresa.

Posted by: critics choice | Dec 11, 2013 1:47:33 PM

cc stated: "Please try and come up with some new material. Your redundant red herring remarks, among others, in rebuttal to numerous commentators is really beginning to smell stale."

Actually, I was going to say the same to you and your ilk. Stop arguing in logical fallacies and I will be able to stop pointing them out. It is tiresome correcting your idiocy but I am up to it.

You stated: "Unless you two truly don't have assholes, don't be so shocked when someone tells you that your shit smells the same as everyone else's and is worth just about as much in the long run."

LOL As I always say, there is no one less self-aware than a liberal. You and Mark are the ones arguing on the side of Ivy Leaguers running the country for the hoi polloi and I think MY shit does not smell?

Too funny. Are you really a buffoon or just playing one for my amusement? If the latter, a hearty thank you.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 12, 2013 11:25:29 AM

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