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February 9, 2018

Lamenting latest data on how federal Bureau of Prisons administers its compassionate release program

This new press release from Families Against Mandatory Minimums, headlined "New Data Reveals BOP Still Neglecting Compassionate Release," reports on the release of new data about a notable piece of federal prison law and administration. Here is much of the full release (with links from the original):

FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) President Kevin Ring today commented on the release of new data related to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) compassionate release program. Last August, 12 U.S. senators wrote to the BOP seeking information on the number of individuals who were granted early release pursuant to the program. In its response dated January 16, the BOP revealed that the agency has granted a mere 306 petitions while denying more than 2,400 over the past four years.  Prisoners facing unimaginable circumstances wait an average of 4.7 to 6.5 months for a response, and 81 prisoners died while waiting for an answer.

“We are disappointed but not surprised,” Ring said. “Even as interest in prison reform grows, we find that the BOP is not using its authority to reduce the number of low-risk, high-cost individuals in federal prisons. This failure hurts families and taxpayers without improving public safety.

“The fact that 81 individuals died waiting for a response to their petitions for compassionate release is a moral outrage. We as a country can do better than this. Congress should act now to streamline the process and inject some common sense and dignity to this program,” Ring said.

FAMM has been a longtime advocate for expanding federal and state compassionate release programs, which authorize early release for prisoners facing extreme circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. Last year, FAMM helped to establish the Campaign for Compassionate Release, a coalition of diverse organizations who support the creation, expansion, and robust use of compassionate release.

February 9, 2018 at 10:02 AM | Permalink


FAMM is a pro-criminal, anti-victim hate organization. If you are going to present their propaganda, try to get the response of the Bureau of Prisons, to this nit picking insignificant report. Or else, disclose their bias, and the total insignificance of their complaint.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 9, 2018 1:26:15 PM

How about compassionate imprisonment, i.e., not jailing people in the first place for victimless crimes like prostitution, drug use, not going through a background check to buy a gun, etc.?

Not jailing people in the first place could be even more compassionate than letting people out.

Posted by: Mary Jane Roe | Feb 9, 2018 2:31:13 PM

Asking the BOP to be more generous in its implementation of the compassionate release program is futile; no one every voluntarily gives up power especially prison administrators. What is needed is a simple amendment to 18 U.S.C. 3582 (c)(1)(A) as follows: "In any case the court, upon motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons [or the United States, or the defendant] may reduce the term of imprisonment......"

The proposed new language is in brackets. Everything else in the statute to remain the same.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Feb 10, 2018 1:13:07 PM

I think the best resolution would be to change the role of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to forward to the district court any RIS request in which the prisoner met the criteria of 18 USC 3582 and Sentencing Commission policy statements, rather than exercising arbitrary decision making authority over the merits of an eligible prisoner's application.

Letting defendants file for compassionate release directly would burden the courts. As we have observed in RIS petitions under 3582(c)(2), most of those rejected by the courts are thrown out because the prisoner does not meet published criteria. Having the BOP serve as gatekeeper would keep the compassionate release requests reaching the courts limited to those who qualify. The district judges could then exercise discretion as to those who should receive and those who should not.

As for Mr. Behar's suggestion that Doug not report on the FAMM report until hearing from the BOP, the Sentencing Law and Policy report links to the letter itself. If FAMM's spin annoys you, simply skip over it and read the unadorned data. If Doug were to wait for a BOP comment to publish, we'll all be in retirement homes before the information makes it to print. Note that the BOP required 5-1/2 months to compile a simple 2-page response from data easily found on its own IT system, and that request was from people who have nominal control over the government machinery.

Posted by: Tom Root | Feb 10, 2018 3:36:06 PM

Tom. Thanks for the good idea.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 11, 2018 6:30:56 AM

Tom Root thinks permitting defendant's to move for compassionate release would "burden the courts."
I'm not persuaded. The defendants would still have to meet the other strict criteria of the statute. Law clerks could screen out the applications that did not meet the criteria. In any event, courts are there to decide issues. Being "burdened" is their job.

Posted by: anon2 | Feb 11, 2018 9:34:42 AM

Of course, Anon2 and its ilk would be getting more cases. These cases would actually be cruel. Let's take really sick people in a place for decades. Let's kick them to the street. Let's force them to adapt to totally new and strange environments.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 12, 2018 7:12:44 AM

Behar is right. Release sick people is cruel. Far better to let them rot away in cold, dank cells, lying in their own excrement, vomit, and urine, and eating vermin while they waste away from cancer and dementia.

Posted by: anan14 | Feb 12, 2018 1:17:29 PM

Anon14. Those are the conditions in nursing homes, less so in prison hospitals.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 13, 2018 2:02:52 AM

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