Compassionate Early Release Program in Federal Prison System for Elderly and Ill Inmates

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a compassionate release program that offers early release or a reduction of sentence to certain eligible federal inmates for “particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonable have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing,” according to their Program Statement, published by the BOP. The Program Statement, which lists the procedures for implementation of the compassionate release program, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) and 4205(g), includes the following criteria for inmates to be eligible to apply:

  • Medical circumstances (Terminal or debilitated medical condition);
  • Non-medical circumstances for elderly inmates;
  • Non-medical circumstances for the death or incapacitation of a family member care giver of an inmate’s child; and
  • Non-medical circumstances for the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse or partner, when the inmate is the only care giver for that spouse.


Section 4 of the BOP Program Statement describes the three ways an elderly inmate can petition for compassionate release/reduction in sentence:

  • a) “New Law” Elderly Inmates – If an elderly inmate was sentenced for an offense that occurred on or after November 1, 1987, who is 70 years or older, and has served 30 years or more of their sentence;
  • b) Elderly Inmate with a Medical Condition – If an elderly inmate, who is 65 years or older and has a medical condition; or
  • c) Other Elderly Inmates – If an elderly inmate, who is 65 years or older, has served the greater of 10 years or 75% of their sentence.

Section 4.b – Elderly Inmates with Medical Condition

Under Section 4.b of the Program Statement, elderly inmates with a medical condition must specifically meet the the following criteria in order to petition for a compassionate release:

  • The inmate must be 65 years or older;
  • The inmate must have a serious or chronic medical condition “related” to the aging process;
  • The inmate must be experiencing deteriorating mental or physical health issues that “substantially diminishes” his/her ability to function in a correctional facility;
  • The treatment the inmate is receiving in custody must seem to promise no substantial improvement to the inmate’s physical or mental condition; and
  • The inmate must have served at least one half of their federal sentence.

When reviewing a petition for compassionate release under Section 4.b, the BOP looks at the following factors in making their determination:

  1. The age the inmate committed the offense for which he/she is currently incarcerated;
  2. Whether the inmate suffered from the medical condition at the time he/she committed the offense; and
  3. Whether PSR (Presentence Investigation Report) contained a paragraph about the medical condition.

On March 25, 2015, the BOP added the following language to Section 4.b of their Program Statement: “The BOP Medical Director will develop and issue medical criteria to help evaluate the inmate’s suitability for consideration under this RIS category.”

Preparing a Petition for Compassionate Release under Section 4.b

When preparing a Petition for Compassionate Release for an elderly inmate with a serious medical condition, under Section 4.b of the BOP Program Statement, the petition must contain a paragraph on each of three factors listed above and must contain backup documentation from medical providers and medical records.  Failure to include this information in the Petition will either cause the Petition to be returned as legally insufficient, or even worse, may be stuck or remain “under consideration” from the various federal agents and agencies in the Bureau of Prisons or the Department of Justice legal department in Washington, D.C.

First, you file your petition with the Bureau of Prisons by sending it to the warden at the federal detention facility.  Copies of the Petition should be sent to BOP in Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Attorney in your district, and to the sentencing judge.  Then, if the warden approves the Petition,  the BOP will begin its review at the BOP regional office, followed by a medical review and a legal review at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.  Your best source of information in following the progress of your petition is the inmate’s case manager.  The case manager can, if they want, indicate where the petition is in the process – Whether the warden has reviewed, denied or approved the Petition and if it has been forwarded to BOP and DOJ headquarters.

Although the BOP Compassionate Release Program is good option strive for, keep the following sobering statistic in mind before you undertake a compassionate release petition:  In 2014, only 101 federal inmates were granted compassionate release petitions, the total number of petitions is not revealed, but there were 214,000 men and women in federal prison facilities in 2014.

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