Compassionate Release (Title VI, Section 603)

The First Step Act revised the federal compassionate release statute, 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1)(A).

Prior to the adoption of the First Step Act, the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) had exclusive and unreviewable discretion to determine who was eligible for compassionate release and often exercised its gatekeeping role to prevent federal inmates’ petitions for release from ever getting in front of courts. The BOP rarely granted petitions and there was no right of the inmate to appeal. Now, under the First Step Act, inmates are permitted to bring motions to the court on their own behalf. To be eligible to file a motion with the original sentencing court, the inmate must first either 1) exhaust administrative remedies with the Bureau of Prisons, or 2) have a compassionate release motion pending before the Bureau of Prisons for at least thirty (30) days without receiving an answer.

The First Step Act allows inmates to seek compassionate release for extraordinary and compelling reasons. Alternatively, the inmate can seek relief if he is at least 70 years of age, has served at least 30 years in prison, and the Director of the BOP has determined that he is not a danger to the safety of the community. See 18 U.S.C. §3582 (c)(1)(A). 

The First Step Act also places notification and assistance requirements on the Bureau of Prisons.  See 18 U.S.C. §3582(d).

  • For inmates diagnosed with a terminal illness, the BOP must:
    • Notify the inmate’s attorney, partner, and family members of the inmate’s condition within 72 hours of diagnosis
    • Allow family members to visit the inmate within 72 hours after diagnosis
    • Must assist inmate in drafting and submitting compassionate release motion if requested by the inmate, his attorney or family member.
  • For inmates physically or mentally unable to file for compassionate release, the BOP must:
    • Notify the inmate’s attorney or family member
    • If requested by the attorney or family member, must help the inmate file a compassionate release motion. 
  • Education on Compassionate Release:
    • BOP facilities must regularly provide information to inmates about procedures and timelines for compassionate release motions. 
  • Annual Report:
    • The BOP must submit to the House and Senate annual updates regarding the effectiveness of the First Step Act’s changes to compassionate release. 

Additional Resources

FAMM, Compassionate Release in the First Step Act Explained


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