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The First Step Act: Compassionate Release Under COVID-19

The First Step Act was signed into law on December 21, 2018. Even though it is now over a year old, the Act is more important than ever because it makes it possible for virtually all federal inmates to be eligible for compassionate release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  More importantly, the Act allows for such release and resentencing regardless of whether the Bureau of Prisons agrees.  This is because even if the Bureau of Prisons refuses to authorize release, the Act allows an appeal of the decision to United States District Court – and the Court has the final word.  To be sure, Compassionate Release is therefore much more expansive – and it must be used to obtain release of Covid-19 vulnerable inmates.  The Marshall Project reports that, as of April 22, there were 9,437 reported cases of the virus across 50 U.S. prisons.  Unquestionably, these numbers are much higher in the Bureau of Prisons now and, as has been generally reported, there have been hundreds of deaths. Unfortunately, this is because the population in federal prison is uniquely at risk for infection because of the general inability of the Bureau of Prisons to take part in social distancing and other CDC recommendations. If your loved one is currently in federal prison, it is vitally important for you to understand how the First Step Act should be used to get them released with a reduced sentence.

Who qualifies for compassionate release?

Compassionate release applies during the COVID-19 pandemic because it requires there to be “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Therefore, inmates are eligible for release to home confinements if they are particularly at risk for COVID-19, such as the elderly or terminally ill.

How do you file for compassionate release?

The First Step Act is an expansion of compassionate release that is meant to provide an opportunity for inmates to petition the district court for their release. Before it was passed, the Bureau of Prisons used to be the only authority over compassionate release requests. Now, the requests can be made to the district court if the B.O.P refuses to grant release. If your loved one has the potential to be considered for compassionate release, contact an attorney with our offices to draft and submit the request to the B.O.P and the district court.

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