Compassionate Release: Debilitated Medical Condition

Congress has authorized the Federal Bureau of Prisons to seek compassionate release, known in Bureau speak as a "Reduction in Sentence" (RIS), when a prisoner presents certain extraordinary and compelling circumstances. Pursuant to Congressional directive, the United States Sentencing Commission established circumstances that specifically qualify as extraordinary and compelling. One such circumstance is a debilitated medical condition.

Debilitated Medical Condition Compassionate Release Criteria

According to the Sentencing Guidelines, debilitated medical conditions pertain to prisoners who are "(I) suffering from a physical or mental condition, (II) suffering from a serious functional or cognitive impairment, or (III) experiencing deteriorating physical or mental health because of the aging process." Additionally, the Guidelines contemplate that the condition Debilitated Medical Condition Compassionate Release"substantially diminishes the ability of the [prisoner] to provide self-care within the environment of a correctional facility and [is a condition] from which he or she is not expected to recover." The second prong -- a functional or cognitive impairment -- was added to the Guidelines in 2016, and is "intended to include a wide variety of permanent, serious impairments and disabilities, whether functional or cognitive, that make life in prison overly difficult for certain inmates."

The Bureau policy on a debilitated medical condition is more specific. According to Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence at § 3(b), "RIS consideration may [] be given to inmates who have an incurable, progressive illness or who have suffered a debilitating injury from which they will not recover." The circumstances under which the Bureau will consider a RIS for a debilitated condition are:

  • When a prisoner is completely disabled, "meaning the inmate cannot carry on any self-care and is totally confined to a bed or chair;" or
  • When a prisoner is capable of "only limited self-care and is confined to a bed or chair more than 50% of waking hours."
  • Bureau policy also contemplates review of any cognitive defects of the prisoner who is applying for a debilitated medical condition compassionate release, such as Alzheimer's disease or traumatic brain injury. While a cognitive defect is not required in cases of a physical impairment, it may be a factor when considering the prisoner's ability to reoffend.

Warden's Review of Petition

In addition to these factors, the Bureau will consider the following elements when determining if a compassionate release should be granted:

  • Criminal history
  • Current offense
  • Length of sentence and time served
  • Supervised release violations
  • Unresolved detainers
  • Personal history
  • Age at present and at time of offense
  • Institutional adjustment (including disciplinary record)

All of these elements are considered by the Warden during the local level review. The Warden has significant discretion when considering these and other factors.

The Compassionate Release Process

Once the inmate submits his or her request to the Warden, the compassionate release process begins. If the Warden determines that a RIS for a debilitated medical condition is warranted, he will forward the approval and packet of documents to the BOP's General Counsel. The General Counsel will then seek out the opinion of the Medical Director. If the General Counsel approves the request, it is forwarded to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons. The Director's decision is a final agency decision.

If the Director approves, he will request that the U.S. Attorney for the prisoner's sentencing district move the court for early release of the prisoner. The court will then convene a hearing, consider argument and evidence, and render a decision. If the compassionate release application is approved, the BOP will release the prisoner as soon as his or her release plans are finalized.

Seeking Professional Assistance

Seeking compassionate release due to a debilitated medical condition is not simple. Not only must a comprehensive review of the inmate's personal and medical situation be undertaken, but the petition must be carefully drafted and submitted to the Bureau. In addition to this, there typically comes a point during the review process where the compassionate release petition stalls. Having competent counsel to assist in pushing such requests through can literally be the difference between life and death.

We at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample have experience with researching, drafting, submitting, and managing the compassionate release application process. We can help ensure that you qualify, are filing under the correct category, and can draft a petition which fulfills all of the Bureau's requirements. Additionally, we can contact select Bureau officials on your behalf if your petition stalls during the review process. This can make a significant difference in the likelihood of success of your petition.

To help simplify matters, we have developed an example of a compassionate release petition for a debilitated medical condition. While this is a simple example which utilizes a fictional inmate and a fictional medical background, it shows how such petitions can be presented.

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