What to Do if Denied Compassionate Release


The Bureau of Prisons denies most applications for compassionate release. Between 2013 and 2017, The New York Times reported that the Bureau received 5,400 applications, but only granted 350. For most, denial of compassionate release is an unfortunate reality.

Compassionate Release Denial Procedures

The compassionate release denial procedures are discussed in 28 C.F.R. § 571.63 and Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence.

According to the above policy provisions, the Warden, General Counsel, and BOP Director can all deny the compassionate release request. In such an What to Do if Denied Compassionate Releaseinstance, all must provide “written notice and a statement of reasons for the denial.” While a denial by the Warden is appealable through the Administrative Remedy Program, denials by either the General Counsel or Director are “final administrative decision[s]” and are not appealable.

See our Compassionate Release Denials FAQs for answers to commonly asked questions.

Review the Underlying Circumstances and Request Provision

In the event of a denial, the inmate needs to regroup and take a fresh look at the underlying circumstances of their request and the provision of compassionate release under which they qualify. All of this should be readily available in the application that they filed. When reviewing the application, a hard look should be taken at both the personal circumstances and supporting documentation. If these circumstances have changed, then the request should be updated. Likewise, if there wasn’t enough on-point supporting documentation (or any included in the application), then this needs to be secured and attached to the application.

If the application is lacking in the supporting documentation arena, the inmate can secure such documentation in several ways. The inmate can send a request to Medical Records for them to provide a comprehensive copy of their medical records. The inmate can also utilize a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to secure such documentation. Either way, once the responsive records are in hand, the inmate should read through them and select the most compelling documents to attach to their petition.

Next, the inmate should also reexamine the specific category of compassionate release under which they applied. They should proceed element by element to ensure that their personal circumstances fulfill each element as discussed in BOP policy. Proof of such should be drafted into the compassionate release request. When doing so, the other categories should also be considered to see if perhaps a different category is more appropriate.

The inmate should also have a strong focus on making the document as professional and clean as possible. At a minimum, the application should be typed on a typewriter. Better yet, if possible, the inmate should ask someone to edit it and type it using a word processor. While not required, a professional product can improve the chances of success.

Resubmitting the Request

With the finalized compassionate release application in hand, it’s time for the inmate to resubmit. While this application can simply be dropped in their housing unit’s mailbox with their Warden as the addressee, a more secure manner of submitting the application would be to hand the entire compassionate release packet (request and supporting documentation) to their case manager. The whole packet can be placed in a legal envelope addressed to the Warden. The case manager can then forward the request to the Warden.

Timing Considerations

One of the most difficult elements to feel out is the timing of compassionate release petitions. This is true of both an initial request and subsequent requests. The inmate needs to ensure that they qualify under one of the seven categories of compassionate release, yet not wait so long as to put their own life or functioning in jeopardy. This needs to be balanced against the very real concern of applying too soon. The first application will most likely be taken the most seriously and very well might create the narrative for current and future requests. Bureau officials might decide that relief is not warranted due to a premature application, and then continue in this line of thinking when subsequent requests are filed, even though the situation might have changed drastically.

While no hard rules can be provided here, the inmate should have these considerations in mind when deciding on the most advantageous time to file the compassionate release application.

Hiring an Attorney to Help

Instead of going it alone, we at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample strongly recommend that you bring on an attorney to assist in this process. Our office has considerable experience with compassionate release petitions and can bring this experience to bear for you and your unique situation. Whether you’re looking to file an initial compassionate release petition, appeal a denial, or reformulate and refile a subsequent request, we’re here to help get things right.

If you or a loved one have recently been denied compassionate release, call us at 802-444-4357 to figure out what to do next.

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