COVID-19 accomplished something that years of criminal justice reform had failed to accomplish: reducing the number of people incarcerated.
A law passed in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic permitted jails to lower the number of inmates housed in federal prisons by letting individuals with minimum security profiles serve the remainder of their sentences in their homes rather than in prison.
According to Michael Carvajal, Director of the Bureau of Prisons, almost 7,000 offenders have been placed on home confinement due to the CARES Act’s implementation. But those numbers are what the BOP claims. Many of those individuals were already going home. On the other hand, many convicts attempted to reduce their sentences by petitioning for compassionate release.
Luckily for me, it was granted, after I wrote a ridiculous 200-page motion to the court, my original release date was 1/3/2024.
Compassionate Release compaired
The number of offenders who were granted compassionate release increased significantly in comparison to previous years, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the assistance of the First Step Act, which provided prisoners with greater access to federal courts to request release on compassionate grounds. Prior to the passage of the First Step Act, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill signed by President Donald Trump in December 2018, the only person who could file a compassionate release motion was the Director of the Bureau of Prisons.
In accordance with the First Step Act, defendants may submit these motions directly to federal court after exhausting all administrative processes within the Bureau of Prosecutions (BOP). As a result of the First Step Act and COVID-19, a significant increase in both the number of motions for and granting of compassionate release has occurred.
Twenty-four people received relief in fiscal year 2018, while 145 people received relief in the fiscal year 2019, the first full year of the First Step Act. The number of prisoners granted compassionate release increased to 1,805 in 2020, an increase from the previous year.
COVID-19 and Compassionate Release
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Step Act amended section §3582(c)(1)(A), which allowed the defendant to file a request in federal court, allowing a significant rise in the number of compassionate release orders issued during the period of the epidemic. This was because, before this, only the BOP could file such a motion on the defendant’s behalf, which they never did.
The court that received the request determined whether or not someone would be granted compassionate release. In 2020, the First Circuit (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island) had the highest proportion of people granted compassionate release, accounting for 47.5 percent of all cases.
This was followed by the Ninth Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, and Hawaii), which had the second-highest proportion, at 37.3 percent of all cases.OnOn the other hand, the Fifth Circuit the Fifth Circuit granted compassionate relief to 13.7 percent of the individuals who applied for it in that court (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas).
It is encouraging to see that the judicial system is showing some compassion by awarding relief to offenders aged 65 to under 75 years old at a rate that is nearly double the total grant rate (48.3 percent).
“I am pleased that the Commission has issued this comprehensive report on compassionate release trends in fiscal year 2020,”said Acting Chair Judge Charles Breyer in response to the study
According to the Commission, “this report builds on the significant work that the Commission has done in this area, including a report on the One-Year Implementation of the First Step Act in 2019 and subsequent quarterly data reports that provide analysis on motions for compassionate release.”
U.S. Attorneys chastised by DOJ for trying to limit Compassionate Release in Plea Deals
Earlier this week, the issue of compassionate release in federal prisons gained more attention when Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered that federal prosecutors stop limiting defendants’ rights to seek compassionate release in most federal plea agreements. Judge Breyer rejected a defendant’s plea agreement because it had the compassionate release restriction, which attracted attention to the practice I reported about in May of this year.