Compassionate Release | FAMM

Compassionate Release

Our justice system imprisons people to deter crime, punish those who commit crimes, protect the public, and rehabilitate prisoners who will one day return home. At FAMM, we believe prisoners should be released when they are too debilitated to commit further crimes, too compromised to benefit from rehabilitation, or too impaired to be aware of punishment.

FAMM works on compassionate release and provides assistance to stakeholders, lawmakers interested in improving compassionate release rules and performance.  FAMM also houses the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse to ensure that eligible federal prisoners asking the court for release are represented by trained counsel.

What is Compassionate Release?

Compassionate release is called for when terminal illness, advanced age, sickness, debilitation, or extreme family circumstances outweigh continued imprisonment.

Some form of compassionate release is recognized by 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. But, it is very seldom used despite its benefits to prisoners and the criminal justice system.

There are a number of sound reasons for the robust use compassionate release. Among them is the cost of housing, accommodating, and providing medical care for aging prisoners and those suffering from limiting disabilities or terminal conditions. Such prisoners are the most expensive to confine and the least likely to recidivate. Also, families suffer when they cannot comfort loved ones, settle affairs, and restore relationships with prisoners at the end of life.

Our system imprisons people to deter crime, punish those who commit crimes, protect the public, and rehabilitate prisoners who will one day return home. Prisoners should be released when they are too debilitated to commit further crimes, too compromised to benefit from rehabilitation, or too impaired to be aware of punishment.

FAMM works on compassionate release and provides assistance to stakeholders and lawmakers interested in improving compassionate release rules and performance. FAMM also houses the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse to ensure that eligible federal prisoners are represented by trained counsel.

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The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse

The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse identifies federal prisoners who are eligible for compassionate release, have applied, and have been denied or ignored by the Bureau of Prisons. The Clearinghouse reviews applications and recruits, trains, and supports pro bono counsel to represent individuals.

Founded in February 2019, the Clearinghouse is a joint effort of FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

In its first year, the Clearinghouse placed more than 100 cases, and by early March 2020, had secured the release of more than 40 prisoners. Hundreds of lawyers have represented individuals referred by the Clearinghouse, representing more than 45 Federal Public Defender offices and 25 private law firms, solo practitioners, and law school clinics. Some offices have taken on multiple cases.

The Clearinghouse provides in-depth training, up-to-date resource materials, and on-demand assistance to participating volunteers. To better serve our volunteers, the Clearinghouse is developing a comprehensive brief bank and a listserv, and is building a deep bench of consulting resource counsel and medical professionals.

We provide these resources free of charge to attorneys who volunteer to represent prisoners by way of a Clearinghouse referral.

Prisoners and their loved ones interested in asking for help with compassionate release should write to Stories@famm.org and provide the following information:

  • The court in which you or your loved one was sentenced and case number if you have it
  • Why you/your loved one asked for compassionate release
  • When you/your loved one asked for compassionate release
  • Did the warden respond and if so when
  • If so, did the warden recommend compassionate release
  • Did the Central Office of the Bureau of Prisons deny compassionate release? If yes, what reason did it give, and
  • Are there any detainers on file?
  • IMPORTANT: A contact on the outside who knows about your case and situation, with phone number and email if possible.

Lawyers interested in volunteering for the Clearinghouse should contact Steve Salky at SteveSalky@gmail.com or Mary Price at MPrice@FAMM.org.

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Report: “Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States”

“Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States,” is 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.

Read the Report

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Resources

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Past Successes

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