Compassionate Release: Congressional Oversight Needed to Prevent Prisoner Deaths

Categories: Compassionate Release, Featured, Newsroom, Press Release

Contact: Rabiah Burks

WASHINGTON, DC β€” FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) General Counsel Mary Price commented on this morning’s article in the New York Times about the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) chronic failure to grant compassionate release to very sick and elderly prisoners who pose no risk to public safety. The article highlighted the painful experiences and shameful treatment of several individuals who were denied compassionate release and their families.

“Over the years, we have heard dozens of heartbreaking stories from mothers, fathers, siblings, and children who simply wanted to take care of their sick, dying, or elderly loved ones,” said Price. “The BOP’s answer is almost always no.

“This article should banish any illusions that the BOP is going use the compassionate release program as Congress intended. Congress must fix this mess. As a first step, we urge Congress to hold an oversight hearing on the BOP’s failure and get some answers. Furthermore, Congress should hold a hearing on S. 2471, the GRACE Act, a bill that provides a solid solution to the problem,” Price said.

The GRACE Act (Granting Release and Compassion Effectively) is a recently introduced bill that would streamline the BOP’s process of review for compassionate release requests of qualifying elderly and ill federal prisoners. The sponsors of the GRACE Act are Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The BOP’s routine neglect of compassionate release for 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 months to 6.5 months for a response, and 81 prisoners died while waiting for an answer in this period.

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. 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.

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