Friday, November 30, 2012

New Report Shows Compassionate Release Barely Used

The Federal Bureau of Prisons blocks all but a few federal prisoners from compassionate release, Human Rights Watch and FAMM said in a report released today. Congress gave federal courts authority to grant early release – commonly referred to as “compassionate release” – for “extraordinary and compelling” reasons such as imminent death or serious incapacitation. But they cannot do so absent a motion by the Bureau of Prisons, which rarely submits the prisoners’ cases to the courts.

The 128-page report, “The Answer is No: Too Little Compassionate Release in US Federal Prisons,” is the first comprehensive examination of how compassionate release in the federal system works. Congress authorized compassionate release because it realized that changed circumstances could make continued imprisonment senseless and inhumane, Human Rights Watch and FAMM said. But if the Bureau of Prisons refuses to bring prisoners’ cases to the courts, judges cannot rule on whether release is warranted.


Since 1992, the Bureau of Prisons has averaged annually only two dozen motions to the courts for early release, out of a prison population that now exceeds 218,000. The Bureau of Prisons does not keep records of the number of prisoners who seek compassionate release.

Read FAMM's press release here.

Listen to FAMM Vice President and General Counsel Mary Price discuss compassionate release on NPR's Morning Edition here.

Here's the Associated Press's coverage, from The Boston Herald.  An excerpt:
Though the new report is generally critical of BOP policies, it cites some "promising signs" — including formation of a BOP working group to look at the compassionate release program. It said the BOP’s new director, Charles Samuels, has expressed interest in reforming the program and noted that the number of release cases forwarded to the courts had risen slightly under his leadership, to 37 between Jan. 1 and Nov. 15 of this year.
The report urges Congress to change the existing law, which gives prisoners no right to challenge BOP decisions in court. It also says the BOP should bring compassionate release motions to court whenever a prisoner presents compelling arguments, regardless of whether prison officials believe early release is warranted.
The BOP’s budget is more than $6 billion, and care of ailing and aging prisoners is a major factor in rising expenses. The report says one way to curb these costs would be increased use of compassionate release for prisoners posing minimal risk to public safety.

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