May 22, 2015
Former American attorney, Lynne Stewart, was known for representing controversial and unpopular defendants. She garnered more attention after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted on charges of conspiracy and terrorism support. Although Stewart should have served until 2020, she was granted compassionate release at the end of 2013 after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
Stewart’s case is just one example of compassionate release. Put simply, compassionate release is when a federal inmate is allowed immediate release from prison for extenuating circumstances.
When Is Someone Eligible for Compassionate Release?
In the federal criminal justice system, an inmate can only be eligible for compassionate release if he or she meets certain criteria. Inmates may be eligible for immediate early release if there are “particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing.”
Compassionate release is most commonly granted to inmates suffering from terminal illnesses with life expectancies less than eighteen months. Other grounds for compassionate release are mental illnesses, debilitating physical conditions, or irreversible age-related conditions that impede the inmate from functioning in a prison setting.
Compassionate release may also be granted to an individual for familial reasons. For example, an inmate may be released to care for a minor child in the case of the death of a spouse or absence of a caregiver. Ultimately, whether or not an inmate is eligible for compassionate release depends on the specifics of their unique situation.
Is Compassionate Release the Same Thing as Parole?
Compassionate release is different than parole. Unlike compassionate release, parole is based on a prisoner’s behavior or sentencing, whereas compassionate release is based on medical circumstances, humanitarian chances in a prisoner’s unique situation, or another situation.
How Does an Inmate Request Compassionate Release?
In most cases, requesting a compassionate release involves petitioning the court. The court will typically review the petition and then decide the appropriate actions to take.
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