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San Francisco, CA 94111
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Pier 9, Suite 100       San Francisco, CA 94111

Compassionate Release

In some cases, inmates in state or federal prison are eligible for “compassionate release.” When an inmate is debilitated, has compromised health, a terminal illness, advanced age, or extreme family circumstances, a compassionate release may be approved.

How does compassionate release work for federal inmates?

The First Step Act changed how compassionate releases work, expanding the eligibility criteria. This law ensures that a prisoner can appeal a Federal Bureau of Prisons denial or neglect of a request for compassionate release directly to the court. This Act made changes to the minimum sentencing for federal drug crimes, and these changes may allow for a reduced sentence. This Act also allows for some elderly or terminally ill prisoners to serve the rest of a federal sentence in home confinement.

The process of seeking compassionate release

To seek compassionate release, the first step is a prisoner’s request to the Warden at the facility. This submission must be supported by a comprehensive amount of documentation, including the compelling circumstances that could justify considering early release, such as a medical condition. All facts regarding the medical condition of the individual must be submitted.

Once the Warden has received the application, it must be reviewed promptly. Further information and documentation may be requested. Once the review is completed, a decision is made. If the compassionate release request is denied locally, a prisoner has the right to contest the denial. If the compassionate release is approved, the application is then submitted to the Bureau of Federal Prisons for processing.  

The application is reviewed, and if the release is based on a medical issue, it will be reviewed by the Medical Director, or for non-medical requests, it will be reviewed by the Assistant Director or the Correctional Programs Director. Then the package is forwarded, along with the decision, to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, who is the final word on whether the individual is considered eligible for compassionate relief. 

Once the Director has approved the application, further steps must occur. The Director contacts the U.S. Attorney in the jurisdiction where the inmate was sentenced and asks that a motion be filed on the Bureau’s behalf.  

Compassionate release in California

In California, compassionate release can be approved under specific circumstances, including:

  • The prisoner is permanently medically incapacitated. 
  • The medical condition leaves the person unable to perform the “activities of basic daily living,” requiring 24-hour care.  The activities of daily living are defined as: “breathing, eating, bathing, dressing, transferring, elimination, arm use, or physical ambulation.”

Prisoners are not considered for compassionate release if they are sentenced to death or life in prison without parole or serving a sentence for the first-degree murder of a peace officer.

If you have a family member serving time in a California state penitentiary who meets the criteria for compassionate release, our attorneys at Hickey & Chung LLP can help you through the process. 

Why choose Hickey & Chung for compassionate release applications?

The process of seeking compassionate release is complex and can be lengthy. When a loved one is suffering illness, is of advanced age, or terminally ill, speed is of the essence. We are very familiar with the process and the steps to take to move the case forward as quickly as possible, including submitting a comprehensive petition that has all the elements required, responding rapidly to any further requests for information, and pushing the case forward through channels when needed. 

Ensuring you are represented by an attorney that is very familiar with the process of filing applications for compassionate release is critical with regard to the outcome. Attorney Brendan Hickey is a graduate of Harvard and formerly served as a federal defender. Naomi Chung is a talented and accomplished trial attorney who was recently listed in SuperLawyers Rising Stars. Your case will be in the hands of true professionals who have the highest level of dedication to the people they serve.

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