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July 30, 2017

Spotlighting BOP's continued curious failure to make serious use of "compassionate release"

Mike Riggs has this notable new piece at Reason headlined "Congress Wants to Know Why the BOP Won't Let Elderly Prisoners Go Home to Die: 'Compassionate release' is an excellent tool that the BOP refuses to use." Here are excerpts:

For years, federal prisoners and their advocates have begged the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to shorten the sentences of elderly and terminally ill offenders using a provision called "compassionate release."... In 2013, the BOP Office of Inspector General encouraged the BOP to send these kinds of prisoners home. In 2016, the U.S. Sentencing Commission went so far as to expand eligibility for the program in hopes the BOP would use it more.

But the BOP has largely ignored those recommendations [and now] Congress demanded that the BOP explain why it continues to incarcerate geriatric and terminally ill prisoners who pose no threat to public safety and are unlikely to commit new crimes upon their release.

In a report accompanying the 2018 appropriations bill, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) ordered the BOP to turn over reams of data about the compassionate release program. Including:

  • the steps BOP has taken to implement the suggestions of the BOP Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Sentencing Commission

  • a detailed explanation as to which recommendations the BOP has not adopted, and why the number of prisoners who applied for compassionate release in the last five years, as well as how many requests were granted, how many were denied, and why

  • how much time elapsed between each request and a decision from the BOP

  • the number of prisoners who died while waiting for the BOP to rule on their application for compassionate release

Only 10 percent of America's prisoners are in federal prisons, but it is an increasingly old and sick population due to the disproportionately long sentences tied to federal drug offenses. As of June 2017, BOP facilities held 34,769 prisoners over the age of 51. More than 10,000 of those prisoners are over the age of 60.

Elderly prisoners pose financial and human rights problems. "In fiscal year 2014, the BOP spent $1.1 billion on inmate medical care, an increase of almost 30 percent in 5 years," BOP Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz wrote in prepared testimony to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. "One factor that has significantly contributed to the increase in medical costs is the sustained growth of an aging inmate population."...

Shelby's letter gives the BOP 60 days from the passage of the appropriations bill to submit its data to the committee. "Elderly and sick prisoners cost taxpayers the most and threaten us the least, and there's no good reason they should stay locked up or die behind bars because bureaucrats can't or won't let them go home to their families," Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said in a statement. "It's time for someone to get to the bottom of why the BOP's answer is always no on compassionate release."

July 30, 2017 at 05:25 AM | Permalink


The of NO is a simple one. These old inmates provide the Bop with huge $$$$, does one think they are going to give away their fiscal security and power if not for ed to.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 30, 2017 7:26:24 AM

How long did that bitch who helped out the blind sheik live? Oh yeah, that's right.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 30, 2017 7:42:47 AM

The sad fact is that for some, they will have no family that recognizes them and/or able to care for them. Unlike younger, fitter men and women, the system cannot simply turn geriactic people out on the streets with $5 in their pockets. As with most major reforms there has to be plan and provision for appropriate care. The real answer is to ensure that wherever possible, families are enabled and encouraged to maintain regular contact, with release before old age and health become a problem. Also functioning health and rehabilitation programs inside or associated with prisons.

Posted by: peter | Jul 30, 2017 9:37:44 AM

@peter is getting close.

"Elderly and sick prisoners cost taxpayers the most and threaten us the least, and there's no good reason they should stay locked up or die behind bars because bureaucrats can't or won't let them go home to their families"

That proves too much because the elderly and sick cost the taxpayers the most whatever their status, prisoner or not. In fact, if the are released to homes in states that failed to expand the ACA such people may be worse off at home than in prisons. Prison medical care isn't great but it a far sight better than nothing. On the other hand, if they are released to states where the ACA has been expand then all one is doing is shifting taxpayer medical care from prisons to some other taxpayer program. Now, maybe there are some efficiency savings to such cost shifting but the FAMM person doesn't go there and I haven't seen the data. In the end, the whole "cost" argument for compassionate release is very weak, whatever costs saving that will be achieved are going to be achieved either through worse patient outcomes or will be at best incremental.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 30, 2017 10:52:32 AM

I think its time the Federal Government revamped its way of thinking.They are evil the way they throw innocent in jail.They need to close all Federal prison except for murders,and give people a chance instead of throwing away the keys.

Posted by: Lou | Aug 13, 2017 4:36:35 AM

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