Senators Considering Legislation to Expand Eligibility for Compassionate Release

The Federal Docket

February 11, 2021

Recent reports indicate that several U.S. senators from both parties are considering a bill that would expand the number of federal inmates who are eligible for early release from prison based on their elderly age. The bill, titled the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021, failed to become law last year.

The law would bring clarity to the legal landscape of compassionate release. First, it would formally establish what a majority of courts have already recognized: that an inmate’s vulnerability to COVID-19 based on their age or pre-existing conditions is an appropriate basis for early release to home confinement under the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program. The senators note that over half of the 200+ inmates that have died from COVID-19 are over 60. Nearly all of the inmates who have died had pre-existing medical conditions, according to the BOP’s press releases.

Notably, the senators have been critical of the BOP for letting so few inmates out of prison under it’s expanded home confinement authority under the CARES Act. The senators noted that the BOP and DOJ have opposed almost every compassionate release motion filed during the pandemic while courts have granted over 2,000 of them. The bill would loosen the eligibility requirements for vulnerable inmates seeking home confinement due to COVID-19 and shorten the time it takes for BOP to review them.

In terms of permanent changes, the bill would expand the eligibility of the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program by lowering the “amount of time served” requirement from 2/3 of the inmate’s sentence to half of the inmate’s sentence.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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