On April 5, 2023, the United States Sentencing Commission approved significant changes to the federal sentencing guidelines that will, among other things, expand access to and eligibility for compassionate release for those being held in federal prisons. Compassionate release is the process by which those incarcerated may seek early release, whether to community supervision or to their communities, due to extraordinary or compelling circumstances. The ABA called for such changes in its March 10, 2023 letter to the Commission pursuant to the ABA’s recently adopted Ten Principles for Ending Mass Incarceration.
These proposed changes to compassionate release were not unexpected – lawmakers and advocates had already been seeking improvements before the COVID-19 health emergency, and the dangerous conditions in federal facilities during the pandemic increased pressure. But for three crucial years, the Sentencing Commission lacked a quorum to act. So, lawmakers expanded compassionate release during COVID, which produced data that helped inform the Commission's actions. For example, as the ABA highlighted in its March letter: "As of August 2022, of the 11,000 individuals who were released from federal prison during the pandemic, only 17 committed new crimes."