March 31, 2018

Compassionate Release

Recently introduced bipartisan legislation addresses the needs of elderly and terminally ill prisoners. S. 2471 − the “Granting Release and Compassion Effectively (GRACE) Act” − introduced Feb. 28 by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), includes provisions to improve the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) approval process for compassionate release. “Too many people who are eligible for compassionate release die in prison because the decision takes too long,” Schatz said in a press release. “Our bill will create clear guidelines in the approval process so that we have more accountability in the system and the sick and elderly who qualify for compassionate release get it.” Compassionate release was first authorized under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, but Lee said the system to implement the statute “has proved to be burdensome and underutilized.” Review of eligible inmates with serious medical conditions takes on average of 141 days to process, and 81 people have died since 2014 while waiting for their reviews to be completed. The elderly, which represent the fastest growing population in federal prisons, are expected to make up 28 percent of the total prison population by 2019. Provisions in S. 2471 include an expedited process for requesting sentence reduction for terminally ill prisoners, a reporting requirement for the BOP, and compassionate release training for BOP staff. The ABA supports government efforts to consider prisoner requests to reduce or modify their sentences based on extraordinary and compelling circumstances, provided the prisoner does not present a substantial danger to the community.

 

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