Debilitated Medical Condition FAQs

Debilitated Medical Condition

1. What is the Debilitated Medical Condition category of compassionate release?

The Debilitated Medical Condition category of compassionate release allows federal inmates to receive a reduction in sentence based on their medical condition, which must be serious and debilitating.

2. Is there a policy statement that governs federal compassionate release and this category of relief?

Yes. Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence, governs this program. Section 3(b) of the program statement specifically concerns debilitated medical conditions.

3. What is the criteria for Debilitated Medical Condition compassionate release?


The inmate must have an “incurable, progressive illness” or “have suffered from a debilitating injury from which they will not recover.” In addition to this, policy also requires one of two levels of functional disability. The inmate must either be completely disabled, “meaning the inmate cannot carry on any self-care and is totally confined to a bed or chair,” or they must be “[c]apable of only limited self-care” and be “confined to a bed or chair more than 50% of waking hours.”

4. Are cognitive defects also considered?

Yes and no. The Bureau is supposed to consider cognitive defects when evaluating a compassionate release petition to determine if it would impact the “inmate’s ability or inability to reoffend.” Such defect can include Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries which have “affected the inmate’s mental capacity or function.”

5. Are cognitive defects also required?

They are not required in the case of “severe physical impairment.”

6. What are the chances of securing compassionate release based on a debilitated medical condition?

Sadly, the chances are not good, as is the case for any compassionate release request. As profiled in our Compassionate Release Statistics page, from 2014 to 2018, 1,106 applications were filed based on a debilitated medical condition, while only 181 were referred to the Director for approval. Out of 3,059 total requests, only 306 were granted, and those were for all categories, not just debilitated medical conditions.

7. What can be done to improve my chances of success?

The easy answer is to hire a lawyer who has experience in such matters. If you’re interested in doing so, we at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample have a proven track record of success in this arena.

Regardless of whether you retain counsel, some best practices apply. To start, a thorough understanding of the BOP’s compassionate release criteria is essential so as to ensure that you are filing under the provision that matches your unique situation. With the provision selected, an investigation into your background and condition needs to be conducted with a focus on satisfying the applicable criteria. Finally, the request must be drafted, supporting documentation attached, and the packet submitted to your Warden for review.

8. Is there anything that your firm can do that I can’t do on my own?

Yes and no. A good compassionate release attorney can bring his skills as a lawyer and his professional experience in seeking, and ideally successfully securing, compassionate release to the table. This can’t be discounted because it makes a real difference in the outcome.

An attorney can also provide an objective review of the facts without emotional entanglement, which is very hard for those in the thick of things to do. Likewise, an attorney can apply external pressure in an effort to keep the review process moving. Moreover, there is an intrinsic value in simply being represented by counsel. Having an attorney makes the Bureau tread carefully. This can mean the difference between success and failure.

If you still have questions after reading our Debilitated Medical Condition FAQs, please call 802-444-4357.

Frequently Asked Questions: Debilitated Medical Condition Compassionate Release


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