Compassionate Release in SC: Federal Inmates


In some cases, federal inmates may be eligible for “compassionate release” based on their advanced age, medical condition, or other “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” 

How do you get compassionate release? 

To maximize your odds of success, your compassionate release petition must be researched, drafted, and filed with the specific criteria in mind that the court will use to grant or deny your petition. In this article, we will cover the basics of early release from federal prison, including:

  • Who qualifies for early release,
  • The criteria used by the courts when considering compassionate release, 
  • Examples of medical and non-medical justifications for early release, and
  • The impact of COVID-19 on compassionate release in SC. 

Who Qualifies for Compassionate Release? 

Federal law allows for the early release of an inmate when there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” which could be based on the inmate’s advanced age, terminal illness, or disability when the inmate “is not a danger to the safety of any other person or the community.”

18 USC § 3582(c), “modification of an imposed term of imprisonment,” says that the court may reduce a term of imprisonment, after considering the 3553(a) factors, if the court finds that:

(i) extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction; or

(ii) the defendant is at least 70 years of age, has served at least 30 years in prison, pursuant to a sentence imposed under section 3559(c), for the offense or offenses for which the defendant is currently imprisoned, and a determination has been made by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons that the defendant is not a danger to the safety of any other person or the community, as provided under section 3142(g)…

Factors that the Court Considers for Compassionate Release

The regulations governing compassionate release can be found in 28 C.F.R. § 571.60, and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has published its policy on compassionate release in Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence.

For all early release petitions, medical or nonmedical, the factors that the BOP will consider include:

  • The nature and circumstances of the offense,
  • Criminal history,
  • Comments from victims,
  • Unresolved detainers,
  • Supervised release violations,
  • Institutional adjustment,
  • Disciplinary infractions,
  • Personal history from the presentence report,
  • Length of sentence and time already served,
  • Prisoner’s age now, and at the time of the offense,
  • Release plans, and
  • Whether release would minimize the severity of the offense.

These factors are not exclusive, but they must be considered when preparing your petition for compassionate release. Next, let’s take a look at some specific examples of situations, based on the BOP’s policy statement, where early release may be granted for federal inmates. 

Medical Justifications

Some medical conditions will qualify as extraordinary and compelling and will justify early release. 

For example, if an inmate has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in death within 18 months, the BOP will consider this as an extraordinary and compelling reason for compassionate release. 

Physical disability or cognitive impairment may also qualify as an extraordinary and compelling reason for early release – for example, when an inmate is completely disabled or confined to a bed or chair for more than 50% of their waking hours. 

Non-Medical Justifications

Non-medical justifications for compassionate release may also be considered when there is an extraordinary and compelling need for the inmate to care for a child, spouse, or partner. 

For example, if the inmate has a child under the age of 18, the child’s caregiver has died or become incapacitated, and the inmate is the only available family member who could care for the child, the BOP will consider the best interests of the child in addition to the factors listed above. 

Another situation where early release may be considered for non-medical reasons is when the inmate’s spouse or registered partner becomes incapacitated – meaning a complete physical disability, and the inmate is the only available caregiver. 

Elderly Inmates 

Elderly inmates may be considered for early release pursuant to BOP policy when:

  • The inmate is 65 years of age or older, has served the greater of ten years or 75% of their prison sentence, and they were not sentenced for a crime of violence when they were 60 years of age or older, or
  • The inmate is 70 years of age or older, the inmate’s crime was committed after November 1, 1987, and they have served at least 30 years of their sentence. 

Elderly inmates with serious medical conditions may also be considered for early release when they:

  • Are 65 or older, 
  • Have serious or chronic medical conditions related to their age, 
  • Have diminished mental or physical health, 
  • Have no hope that their condition will improve with treatment, and
  • Have served at least 50% of their sentence. 

COVID and Compassionate Release 

The number of compassionate release petitions granted increased dramatically beginning in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic – highlighting the fact that these petitions can be based on any extraordinary and compelling need provided the court and BOP agree. 

It’s important to note that, although many early release petitions have been filed – and granted – based on COVID-related issues, compassionate release is available to anyone with an extraordinary and compelling need and who meets the legal standard described above. 

Questions About Compassionate Release in SC? 

Elizabeth Franklin-Best is a federal white collar criminal defense and federal appeals lawyer located in Columbia, SC, who has extensive experience preparing and arguing petitions for compassionate release on behalf of clients. 

For more information, call us at (803) 445-1333 or send us an email to set up a consultation about your case.