GRACE Act Fixes Long-Standing Issues with Compassionate Release

Post Date: February 28, 2018

Contact: Rabiah Burks

GRACE Act Fixes Long-Standing Issues with Compassionate Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Granting Release and Compassion Effectively (GRACE) Act, a bill that would make the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) process for reviewing the “compassionate release” requests of qualifying elderly and ill federal prisoners more efficient. The sponsors of the GRACE Act are Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“Year after year, the Bureau of Prisons has denied the compassionate release requests of hundreds of sick, elderly, and dying prisoners and devastated the families who want to care for them in their final days and months,” said FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) vice president of policy Molly Gill. “The only solution is for Congress to intervene and fix this broken process, and the GRACE Act would do that. No family should miss those last precious moments with a loved one because of too much red tape and a government agency that won’t do its job.”

The BOP’s  chronic failure to grant compassionate release to very sick and elderly prisoners who pose no risk to public safety is well-documented. In August of 2017, 12 U.S. senators wrote to the BOP seeking information on the number of individuals who were granted early release under the program. In its response dated January 16, 2018, the BOP revealed that the agency has granted only 306 petitions, while denying more than 2,400 over the past four years. Prisoners, many facing imminent death, waited an average of 4.7 to 6.5 months for a response, and 81 prisoners died while waiting for an answer in this period.  

If passed, the GRACE Act would create greater accountability and transparency in the BOP’s use of compassionate release. Among other things, the bill

  • Requires annual data collection and reporting on the BOP’s use of compassionate release;
  • Requires the BOP to provide prisoners and prison staff with more visible and regular notice of the availability of compassionate release;
  • Permits prison staff and the prisoner’s family members or attorney to assist a prisoner in filing a compassionate release request;
  • Creates an expedited process for reviewing compassionate release requests from terminally ill prisoners;
  • Requires the BOP to give families the opportunity to visit an incarcerated loved one within seven days of the prisoner’s receipt of a diagnosis of a terminal illness;
  • Permits federal prisoners to appeal the BOP’s denial of a compassionate release request to a district court, once all administrative remedies within the BOP have been exhausted.

FAMM has long advocated expanding federal and state compassionate release programs, which authorize early release for prisoners facing extreme circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. Elderly prisoners are among the most expensive to incarcerate, yet have the lowest rates of reoffending. Recently, FAMM helped to establish the Campaign for Compassionate Release, a coalition of diverse organizations who support the creation, expansion, and robust use of compassionate release.

FAMM is a nonpartisan, national advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice reforms to make our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM promotes change by raising the voices of families and individuals who are directly affected by counterproductive sentencing and prison policies.