New State-by-State Report Reveals Compassionate Release Programs Are Rarely Used - FAMM


New State-by-State Report Reveals Compassionate Release Programs Are Rarely Used

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Contact: Rabiah Burks

Press release

New State-by-State Report Reveals Compassionate Release Programs Are Rarely Used


WASHINGTON – FAMM today released “Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States,” a comprehensive, state-by-state report on the early-release programs available to prisoners struggling with certain extraordinary circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. The report takes a deep dive into the regulations and requirements of these programs in each state, including the varying categories of release, eligibility criteria, and reporting. The analysis also reveals a troubling number of barriers faced by prisoners and their families when applying for early release. The report is accompanied by a comparison chart, 21 recommendations for policymakers, and 51 individual state memos. There is also a video, “Compassionate Release: Not a Right or Left Issue,” which features perspectives from diverse voices.

“It’s cruel and wasteful to continue to incarcerate people who no longer pose a threat to our society,” said Mary Price, author of the report and general counsel at FAMM. “Over the years, most states have attempted to create some form of an early release mechanism for those in need. However, all could be improved, and it is our hope that this will serve as a guide for policymakers nationwide.”

As the country grapples with the rising costs of incarceration, dozens of states have passed sentencing and prison reforms in an effort to safely reduce their prison populations and save money. Advocates across the nation support the creation, expansion, and robust use of compassionate release programs as one way to elevate the strain on the costs of housing, accommodating, and providing medical care for aging prisoners, prisoners who are ill or suffering from a significant and limiting disability, and prisoners nearing the end of their lives. Yet the FAMM report finds that while nearly every state and the District of Columbia have some form of compassionate release, these programs are rarely used.

Key findings include:

  • Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia provide one or more forms of compassionate release. Only Iowa has no specific compassionate release law or regulationSeveral other states, such as Illinois and Michigan, technically have programs in place, but provide no detailed rules or guidance on implementing them.
  • Most states recognize terminal illness and severe medical conditions as grounds for release. A majority require that a prisoner’s condition be so poor that he or she will pose no threat to public safety. A few states consider the cost or difficulty of caring for prisoners who are very ill or dying. A handful of states cite humanitarian grounds.
  • The processes states use to decide if a prisoner is eligible for release range from the straightforward to the very complex. Many programs have multiple layers of review, which consume precious time for prisoners with worsening health or facing imminent death.
  • Only 13 states are required by state law to keep track of and report compassionate release statistics, with very few of them making that information public.

The barriers prisoners face in trying to obtain compassionate release include strict or vague eligibility requirements, categorical exclusions, missing or contradictory guidance, complex and time-consuming review processes; and unrealistic time frames.

Mary Price is available to discuss the report.

If you are a journalist covering this issue, please contact Rabiah Burks at 202.999.4258 or to request an interview or more information.

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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