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Compassionate Release: Elderly Inmates

Certain prisoners held in the Federal Bureau of Prisons may qualify for compassionate release, also known as reduction in sentence (RIS). This provision allows qualifying inmates who suffer from medical problems, are elderly, or who have extraordinary and compelling family needs to be released if they meet stringent criteria.

Compassionate release is codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Federal regulations relating to RIS applications can be found at 28 C.F.R. § 571.60 et Compassionate Release: Elderly Inmatesseq. Bureau policy is located in Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence. U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines relating to compassionate release can be found in § 1B1.13 of the Guidelines Manual.

Pursuant to law and federal regulation, some elderly prisoners qualify for compassionate release. An elderly prisoner seeking compassionate release must meet certain criteria. Broadly, qualifying elderly prisoners are divided into three different categories: medical, new law, and others.

Compassionate Release: Elderly Prisoners with Medical Conditions

An elderly prisoner with a medical condition who is 65 years of age or older may qualify for compassionate release. The Bureau requires that the prisoner suffers from "chronic or serious medical conditions related to the aging process" for which conventional treatments promise no substantial improvement. Additionally, elderly prisoners with medical conditions must have served at least 50 percent of their sentence, and must be experiencing "deteriorating mental or physical health that substantially diminishes their ability to function in a correctional facility."

Prisoners who meet these criteria can apply to the Warden for a reduction in sentence. In addition to the qualifying criteria, the Warden will consider the age at which the prisoner committed the current offense and whether the prisoner suffered from the condition at the time of offense or sentencing.

See our sample Elderly Inmates with Medical Conditions compassionate release petition for an example.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission Guideline which describes the compassionate release of elderly prisoners with medical conditions differs from the Bureau's policy in two ways. Most significantly, the U.S. Sentencing Commission requires only that such a prisoner has served 10 years or 75 percent of his or her sentence, whichever is less. The Guideline also specifically eliminates any inquiry into whether the condition existed or was apparent at the time of offense or sentencing.

Compassionate Release: Other Elderly Prisoners

Bureau policy also contemplates the compassionate release of certain other prisoners. These categories do not require any medical impairment, only that the prisoner be age 65 or older and have served the greater of 10 years or 75 percent of the sentence. Bureau policy specifically excludes prisoners who were age 60 or older at the time that they were sentenced from this reduction in sentence category.

For an example of such a petition, see our compassionate release petition for Elderly Prisoners without Medical a Condition.

Finally, "new law" elderly prisoners may also qualify for compassionate release. A new law prisoner is one who was sentenced for an offense that occurred on or after November 1, 1987. A new law prisoner may apply for compassionate release when they have reached 70 years of age or more and have served at least 30 years of their sentence.

For an example of such a petition, see our "New Law" Elderly Inmate compassionate release request.

Review Criteria for Elderly Inmates

When the Warden receives a compassionate release request from an elderly prisoner, he will consider several factors. These factors are not exclusive or weighted, and the overall objective is for the Warden to "consider whether the inmate's release would pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community." The factors include:

  • The nature and circumstances of the offense.
  • The prisoner's criminal history.
  • Comments from victims, if applicable.
  • The presence of unresolved detainers.
  • Whether the prisoner has previously violated supervised release.
  • The prisoner's institutional adjustment, including disciplinary infractions.
  • The prisoner's personal history, including his or her current age and age at the time of offense.
  • The prisoner's release plan.
  • The length of the prisoner's sentence and the amount of time served.
  • Whether release would minimize the severity of the offense.

Note that the Warden has substantial discretion in approving or denying the compassionate release petition.

Researching, Drafting and Submitting the Petition

While it is free to submit a compassionate release petition, understanding the process and completing the application in a professional manner are not simple tasks. As such, we highly recommend that you contact us at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample for help. We can assist by conducting in-depth research into your personal and medical backgrounds, crafting a detailed petition, and submitting the petition to the proper authorities for review. We can also troubleshoot as problems arise, as they often do when seeking a reduction in sentence. Let us help you make the best first impression, which can go a long way toward a grant of compassionate release.

If you have additional questions about elderly inmate compassionate release, please call 802-444-4357.

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