Criteria for Compassionate Release
Federal inmates who meet specific criteria are permitted to seek a reduction in sentence through the Bureau of Prisons' compassionate release program. Guided by Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence, inmates can qualify for an early release based on medical, non-medical, and elderly reasons. This page discusses the criteria for the various categories of compassionate release.
Medical Compassionate Release Criteria
The Bureau of Prisons has two categories of medical compassionate release: Terminal Medical Condition and Debilitated Medical Condition. Each category has its own set of criteria.
In order to qualify under the Terminal Medical Condition category, inmates must have been "diagnosed with a terminal, incurable disease" and have a life expectancy of 18 months or less. When considering inmates for this category, the Bureau assesses the terminal disease, prognosis, other medical conditions, and any functional impairment. While functional impairment is not necessary, it can be a coloring factor.
In order to qualify under the Debilitated Medical Condition category, inmates must suffer from either an "incurable, progressive illness" or a "debilitating injury from which they will not recover." The inmate must either be completely unable to carry on any self-care and be "totally confined to a bed or chair" or they must be limited in their self-care abilities and be "confined to a bed or chair more than 50% of waking hours."
Non-Medical Compassionate Release Criteria
The Bureau of Prisons permits two non-medical categories of compassionate release: Death or Incapacitation of Minor Child's Caregiver and Incapacitation of Spouse or Registered Partner.
In order to qualify under the Death or Incapacitation of Minor Child's Caregiver category, the inmate must have either a biological or adopted child under the age of 18 who was being cared for by a family member, but who either died or became incapacitated and, therefore, could no longer care for the child. According to policy, "'incapacitated' means the family member caregiver suffered a severe injury (e.g., auto accident) or suffers from a severe illness (e.g., cancer) that renders the caregiver incapable of caring for the child." When assessing such requests, the Bureau will ascertain what is in the child's best interest.
For more information, see our Death or Incapacitation of Minor Child's Caregiver or related FAQs page. You can also view an example compassionate release request for this category of reduction in sentence.
In order to qualify under the Incapacitation of Spouse or Registered Partner category, the inmate must be legally married (including legal common law marriages) or be a party to a civil union (or registered domestic partnership) and the relationship must have been "established before the inmate's offense date of arrest."
As it concerns incapacitation, the spouse or partner must have suffered a serious injury or debilitating physical illness which has rendered her completely disabled and unable to "carry on any self-care" and she must be "totally confined to a bed or chair." The spouse or registered partner could also have suffered a severe cognitive defect, such as Alzheimer's disease or a traumatic brain injury, which has "severely affected the spouse's or registered partner's mental capacity or function." Either of these circumstances qualify for relief under this category of compassionate release.
In addition to the above, the inmate must demonstrate that he is the "only available caregiver" and that "no other family member or adequate care option" is available.
Elderly Compassionate Release Criteria
The Bureau of Prisons allows for three categories of compassionate release for elderly inmates: "New Law" Elderly Inmates, Elderly Inmates with Medical Conditions, and Other Elderly Inmates. Each category has its own set of criteria.
In order to qualify under the "New Law" Elderly Inmates category, the inmate must have been sentenced for a crime that occurred on or after November 1, 1987. They also must be 70 years old or older and have served 30 years or more on their sentence.
In order to qualify under the Elderly Inmates with Medical Conditions category, the inmate must be 65 of age or older, suffer from a "chronic or serious" age-related medical condition, experience "deteriorating mental or physical health" that "substantially diminishes" the inmate's ability to live within the confines of a federal prison, "conventional treatments" must promise "no substantial improvement to their mental or physical health," and the inmate must have served at least 50 percent of their prison sentence.
In order to qualify under the Other Elderly Inmates category, the inmate must be 65 years old or older and have served "the greater of 10 years or 75% of their term of imprisonment[.]"
With all of the above categories, the inmate's age at time of offense is taken into account, with those aged 60 or older at the time of offense "ordinarily" not eligible for relief. Likewise, elderly inmates petitioning under the medical category should not have had their current ailment at time of sentencing in order to be deemed eligible.
For more information, see our Compassionate Release: Elderly Inmates page or related FAQs page. You can also view example compassionate release petitions for "New Law" Elderly Inmates, Elderly Inmates with Medical Conditions, and Elderly Inmates without a Medical Condition (i.e., Other Elderly Inmates).
Retaining Experienced Counsel
If you or a loved one are considering seeking a compassionate release for any reason, give yourself the best chance at success by retaining experienced counsel. We at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample understand the compassionate release process, regularly assist clients in seeking reductions in sentence, and have a proven track record of success. Contact us today to see how we can help.
To learn more about compassionate release criteria or to retain counsel, call 802-444-4357. Members of the news media can also read our News Media Background page which explains federal compassionate release from a top-level overview.
- Compassionate Release in Federal Prison
- Compassionate Release: Terminal Medical Condition
- Compassionate Release: Debilitated Medical Condition
- Compassionate Release: Elderly Inmates
- Compassionate Release: Death or Incapacitation of Child's Caregiver
- Compassionate Release: Incapacitation of Spouse
- Compassionate Release FAQs