Contact: Rabiah Burks
FAMM Announces Launch of National Campaign for Compassionate Release
WASHINGTON – Today, a coalition of criminal justice reform, health policy, human rights, and faith-based organizations launched a new public education and advocacy campaign to urge the creation, expansion, and robust use of federal and state programs that grant early release to prisoners with compelling circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. “The Campaign for Compassionate Release” comprises a diverse group of organizations, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), American Conservative Union Foundation, Human Rights Watch, National Council of Churches, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and National Disability Rights Network.
“It is cruel and senseless to prisoners and families alike to abandon an individual to suffer or die alone in prison, separated from loved ones. These prisoners are the least dangerous and most expensive to lock up, yet compassionate release often exists in name only. It often fails the people it is intended to help. And we’re fed up,” said Mary Price, general counsel of FAMM.
To kick off the Campaign, 36 organizations and individuals endorsed a statement of principles. The principles focus on the humanitarian, public safety, and economic benefits of granting early release to elderly prisoners, those with disabilities, or prisoners facing extreme family changes. While the Campaign will target both federal and state policies, the first stages of the launch focus on reforms to the federal compassionate release program.
The federal compassionate release program, created by Congress, has existed for decades but is rarely used. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) must decide if prisoners meet program criteria and then seek their release in the courts, but in reality, the BOP only brings a trickle of release motions to the courts annually. Delays also plague the program; prisoners commonly die awaiting a decision. Congressional appropriators, government watchdogs, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and outside advocates all have questioned the BOP’s failure to use the program as Congress intended, especially since sick, dying, and elderly prisoners are the least likely to re-offend and the most expensive to house.
Today, many Campaign members and others sent a letter to BOP Director Mark Inch, urging him to expand the program’s use. The letter echoes a similar letter signed by a bipartisan group of senators in August.
Public Education Tool Kit
A major component of the Campaign for Compassionate Release is public education. Most prisoners and their families do not know such a mechanism for release exists. Others, including many prison officials, are misinformed and unclear about the process.
In response, the Campaign has produced an easy-to-understand animated explainer video that unpacks the federal program.
In addition, FAMM is presenting three videos that highlight how the families of prisoners seeking compassionate release are often unintended victims of the failures of the process. Nobody Cared tells the story of Warren Rossin, who finally got compassionate release after applying several times, but only because he had his fierce and persistent daughter to navigate the application process. 5 to Life is a documentary about Allison Rice, who was not allowed to be with her father when he died, alone and in prison, just weeks after being denied compassionate release. Time Sensitive is the story of Debbie DiMasi, who refused to stop trying for the only thing that could save her husband Sal.
Over the next year, the Campaign will work to raise awareness, conduct research, provide resources to prisoners and their loved ones, and advocate for federal and state compassionate release programs that work.
FAMM is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization fighting for smart sentencing and prison policies that protect public safety.
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