In late 2018, Congress signed into a law the bipartisan First Step Act (FSA) – a criminal justice reform bill that gives judges greater latitude in how they impose sentences, while giving prisoners more options for a reprieve if they meet certain criteria.

One facet of the First Step Act is expanded options for compassionate release under the reauthorized Second Chance Act. Compassionate release is the release of incarcerated individuals who are typically facing imminent death and who pose no threat to the public.

Prison reform advocates are hopeful that making the process of applying for compassionate release easier to navigate will help take eligible elderly and ill offenders out of the prison system.

An inmate may apply for home confinement under the Second Chance Act Home Confinement Pilot program provisions contained in the FSA if they meet the eligibility criteria as an elderly offender or as a terminally ill offender. An inmate may initiate a request under either provision with their Unit Team.

The eligibility criteria for participation in the program are:

  • Eligible elderly offender means an offender in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) who is not less than 60 years of age and has served 2/3 of the term of imprisonment to which the offender was sentenced;
  • Eligible terminally ill offender means an offender in the custody of the BOP who has been determined by a medical doctor approved by the BOP to be in need of care at a nursing home, intermediate care facility or assisted living facility, or diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Inmates approved by the BOP for the Second Chance Act Home Confinement Pilot program may be transferred directly from the institution to home confinement without needing to go through a reentry program first.

According to NPR, compassionate release isn’t a new concept; in fact, Congress initially carved out an exception for compassionate release for inmates in 1984, but requests were rarely granted. The Justice Department’s Inspector General studied the issue and found the program was poorly managed and rife with confusion. Many prisoners would die before their compassionate release request was even considered.

The new rules aim to change all of that. In contrast with a historically lengthy and cumbersome process, the BOP is now required to process requests for compassionate release within 14 days. The BOP is also required to provide assistance to the prisoner with drafting and submitting a petition for compassionate release.

Under the new rules, the path to release has become easier. “Now, thanks to the First Step Act, when I hear from someone struggling with the compassionate release process, I don’t have to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Families Against Mandatory Minimums general counsel Mary Price told NPR. “Instead, I can say, ‘Let me see if I can find you a lawyer.’ ”

Price said the new possibilities opened up by the law have changed her work. “It is the most amazing feeling to work with the many lawyers who are filing and beginning to win compassionate release motions for prisoners who I know would never have made it to court, were it up to the BOP.”

As strong advocates for second chances, A 2nd Chance Bail Bonds applauds these common-sense measures to help ease the suffering of those who’ve done their time.