U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases “Compassionate Release Data Report”

The Federal Docket

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released data reflecting the number of motions for sentence reductions under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A), known as “compassionate release,” that have been granted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, thousands of inmates have filed motions for release based on their medical condition and heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated. Several inmates have also filed motions based on the excessiveness of their sentences in light of recent changes to sentencing laws under the First Step Act.

The Commission’s 6-page report found that, from March 2020 through December 2020, at least 2,549 motions for compassionate release were granted, 21% of all motions filed. On the other hand, at least 9,589 (79%) have been denied. 96% of all motions were filed by inmates, not the BOP.

Table 1 lists the number of motions filed, granted, and denied in each judicial district. The five districts with the highest percentage of granted motions were the District of Oregon (68.5%), the District of Puerto Rico (66.7%), the District of Rhode Island (64.4%), the District of Guam (62.5%), and the District of Massachusetts (61.3%). The District of Vermont, the Northern District of Oklahoma, the District of Colorado, and the Southern District of California all cleared 50% (with ND Cali coming close).

The five lowest percentages came from the Western District of North Carolina (2.1%), the Southern District of Georgia (2.5%), the Eastern District of Arkansas (2.8%), the Eastern District of Oklahoma (2.9%), and the Eastern District of Texas (3.3%). The Northern District of Texas (5.6%), the Eastern District of Kentucky (6.6%), the Southern District of Mississippi (4.8%), and the Middle District of Georgia (4.2%) also stood out for their low percentages.

Table 2 breaks down the data by showing the number and percentage of motions granted based on the year the sentence was imposed. As might be expected, the data generally shows that, the more time has passed since the inmate’s sentence was imposed, the more likely a judge will grant the inmate’s release.

Table 3 shows how many motions were filed in each circuit, how many were filed by the inmate, the director, or the attorney for the government.

While only 21% of inmates were granted release by the courts during the pandemic, the number of compassionate release requests granted by the BOP was much, much smaller. According to a recent report by the Marshall Project, the BOP approved only 36 requests for compassionate release out of over 31,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was even less than the 55 requests the BOP approved in 2019, before the pandemic.

Click here to read the full report from the US Sentencing Commission.

Click here to read the report from the Marshall Project.

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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