IG: unclear standards for compassionate release

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Prisons lacks clear standards on when to grant compassionate release to inmates with terminal illnesses and limited life expectancies, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Wednesday.

The investigator’s office found that in a study of 206 such requests from 2006 through 2011, the director of federal prisons approved 142 releases and denied 36. In 28 cases, the inmates died before a decision was made.

The prison bureau’s compassionate release program “is poorly managed” and its implementation “has likely resulted in potentially eligible inmates not being considered for release,” the IG concluded.

The office found that prison staff members had varied and inconsistent understandings of the circumstances that warranted consideration for compassionate release. Once such requests are granted by the director of federal prisons, motions for compassionate release are filed with sentencing judges.

At some institutions, only inmates with a life expectancy of six months or less were eligible for consideration. At some other institutions, the life expectancy for considering compassionate release was 12 months or less.

Some federal prisons do not have standards for how quickly the review process should move. The inspector general found that the process for appealing a warden’s or a regional director’s denial of a request can take more than five months.

Prison regulations permit non-medical circumstances to be considered as a basis for compassionate release. But the IG found that prisons routinely reject such requests.

In response, the Bureau of Prisons said it is working on new medical guidance for whether requests warrant compassionate release. In addition, the bureau said it has already started a process to consider the subject of non-medical compassionate release. It said it will provide training to staffers responsible for reviewing inmate requests.

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