Federal law provides that select prisoners held in the Bureau of Prisons may be granted compassionate release under certain circumstances. In general, there are three categories of criteria that may constitute "extraordinary and compelling" reasons justifying a reduction in sentence for compassionate reasons. Federal prisoners who suffer from terminal or chronic medical conditions, are over the age of 65 and suffer from age-related medical problems, or have suddenly become the sole family member caregiver for a minor child or incapacitated spouse may be eligible.

Barriers to Securing a Compassionate Release

The Bureau is the compassionate release gatekeeper. While a final decision to reduce a prisoner's sentence must be made by a federal court, only the Family Members, Support a Compassionate Release PetitionBureau can ask the court to reduce a prisoner's sentence for compassionate reasons. As such, federal prisoners seeking relief will have to convince the agency responsible for keeping them in prison to let them out. It is an understatement to say that this is a difficult task.

The data on BOP compassionate release approvals bears this out. The New York Times reviewed 2013 to 2017 compassionate release figures and found that the Bureau approved about 6 percent of the 5,400 applications received. A different report, based on a May 2016 FOIA response, indicated that the Bureau approved 61 prisoners in 2013, 101 in 2014 and 99 in 2015.

Given the difficulty of obtaining relief from the BOP, it is crucially important that a prisoner who qualifies for compassionate release use every tool at their disposal when making a reduction in sentence request. One such tool is the assistance of someone outside of prison.

Seeking Help from the Outside: Family Members

For most prisoners, help from the other side of the wall comes in the form of family. In some cases, prisoners seeking compassionate release hire an experienced attorney. Rarely, a prisoner may obtain assistance from an outside relief organization, such as FedCURE.

An outside assistant should act as the point person on the prisoner's application. The Bureau considers multiple factors when reviewing compassionate release applications. An outside assistant should know those factors and ensure that Bureau officials have all available information on each factor. For instance, when a prisoner seeks compassionate release due to the death or incapacitation of a minor child's sole family member caregiver, the Bureau will make significant inquiries into the family situation. An outside assistant is well-positioned to gather that information and present it in a persuasive manner.

An outside assistant should also spend significant effort in arranging the prisoner's release plans. The Bureau will not recommend the compassionate release of a prisoner if it does not know where the prisoner will live, how he or she will receive health care, and how the bills will be paid. These arrangements are nearly impossible for a prisoner to make while in custody. An outside assistant can easily make these arrangements and can provide the Bureau with documentation.

Providing Attention and Social Pressure

The most beneficial aspect of outside assistance with a compassionate release application may be the ability to exert pressure. As a rule, prisoners lack agency, leverage and social capital. An outside assistant does not necessarily suffer from these infirmities and can be heard in ways that a prisoner cannot.

Outside assistants can and should keep in regular contact with BOP officials as a prisoner's application is reviewed. If Bureau personnel are not handling the application properly, the outside assistant can go up the BOP chain of command. If the issue is not resolved, the outside assistant can contact the news media, the Attorney General, and members of Congress. The Bureau of Prisons is somewhat sensitive to bad publicity, takes orders from the Attorney General and gets its money from Congress. Applying pressure in those ways can be very beneficial to a prisoner's application for compassionate release. Family members can be extremely helpful in this respect.

Hiring an Experienced Compassionate Release Attorney

While family and friends can do their part to help prisoners seeking a compassionate release, someone with actual experience in such matters can make a world of difference. We at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample have extensive experience with federal compassionate release petitions. We can help by reviewing the inmate's personal and medical background, researching the Bureau of Prisons compassionate release criteria, drafting the reduction in sentence request, and helping to manage the whole process. In an emotionally trying time, we can bring our experience and skill to bear with the goal of bringing your loved one home. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

Call us at 802-444-4357 to learn what you can do to help support a family member's compassionate release petition.

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