Compassionate Release Trends in Federal Court
In June of 2021, the United States Sentencing Commission released a report that synthesized data on compassionate release through December of 2020. Reports like this provide real-time data that allow for an analysis of current sentencing trends and practices. Prior to 2018, motions for compassionate release would only be considered by the court if they came directly from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). However, in December of 2018 Congress amended that rule, allowing offenders themselves to file motions for compassionate release.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, requests, especially from offenders, for compassionate release skyrocketed. The court considered thousands of requests, and the report released by the Sentencing Commission tracked denials and approvals by district. Additionally, the report provides information about the year of the original sentencing for those requesting compassionate release in 2020, as well as the origin of the request, e.g. offender, BOP, or government attorney.
The district that received the most requests for compassionate release in 2020 was Southern Florida, with 497 requests, followed by Southern New York, Middle Florida, Eastern Michigan, and Eastern Virginia. The districts with the highest percentage of approvals for compassionate release was Oregon, with a 68.5% rate of approval, followed by (in descending order) Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Guam and Massachusetts. The district that denied the most requests was the Virgin Islands, granting none of its five requests, followed by Western North Carolina, which denied 97.9% of its 241 requests. Southern Georgia, Eastern Arkansas, and Eastern Oklahoma round out the bottom five for highest denial statistics.
When it came to original sentencing dates, generally speaking, the longer ago the original sentencing date was, the higher the likelihood of approval for compassionate release. 96.4% of motions for compassionate release came from the defendants themselves, with government attorneys accounting for 2.9% of cases and the BOP accounting for just 0.7%.
Sentencing reports like this one issued by the United States Sentencing Commission help lawmakers and citizens notice and track trends. Data like this becomes especially important after unusual circumstances, such as what the country experienced in 2020 due to the massive disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.