The Justice Roundtable applauds the United States Sentencing Commission for strengthening and broadening the criteria of compassionate release by stressing eligibility for federal prisoners based on any of four categories: medical conditions, age, family circumstance, or other extraordinary and compelling reasons. As stated in its April 15 press release, “The Commission’s action encourages the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to use its current authority if an eligible offender meets any of the circumstances defined by the Commission’s expanded criteria for compassionate release.” Citing documented concerns that the BOP has neglected to use this authority in the past to recommend compassionate release, Commission Chief Judge Patti Saris continued, “(w)e encourage BOP to use its discretion consistent with this new policy so that eligible applications are reviewed by a trial judge.”
I submit that the BOP should use this explicit criteria to recommend, in particular, the release of scores of elderly prisoners serving inordinately lengthly sentences whose continued incarceration no longer serves the interests of justice. People such as William Underwood, age 62, whose grandchildren have never seen him outside of prison walls – the traumatic impact on his family alone of his nearly three decades behind bars is extraordinary and compelling.
It is critical that all tools in the criminal justice toolbox be used to reform the system and the Sentencing Commission has now provided the BOP with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the power of the authority it possesses to counter over-incarceration, slash unnecessary prison costs and reunite families.