NCIA files FOIA request with BOP for Compassionate Release Data

The BOP has come under strident criticism in recent years for its failure to adequately respond to inmates’ requests for compassionate release (also called Reduction in Sentence “RIS”).  Groups like Human Rights Watch, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and Public Source have written about the paucity of inmate compassionate release requests that successfully make it through the layers of bureaucracy, as well as the inadequacy of the BOP’s record keeping.  However, a critical April, 2013 report by the DOJ Inspector General seems to have been the impetus for real change at the BOP.  NCIA’s Herb Hoelter wrote about this development, noting that the OIG report “will hopefully force the BOP to take its responsibility seriously, and establish a protocol for release of its elderly, infirm and dying inmates.”

To their credit, in August, 2013, the BOP issued a new and much more detailed policy, which included for the first time a record-keeping requirement.  Under this policy, a “RIS Coordinator” at each of the 111 federal institutions (plus one each at the BOP Office of General Counsel, the Health Services Division, and the Correctional Programs Division) must be appointed to record vital information about every compassionate release request made to a Warden, and track the progress of the request through either denial or approval.

Today, NCIA filed a thorough Freedom of Information Act request with the BOP Office of General Counsel requesting, among other items, every (anonymized) individual compassionate release request entry in the BOP’s database for the fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015.  We also asked the BOP to confirm whether or not an RIS Coordinator has in fact been appointed at every federal institution, as required by their policy, and the date that all such appointments were completed.

Last year, the BOP did respond to a FOIA request by Public Source’s Jeffrey Benzing, so there is every expectation that they will be forthcoming to our request (and in fact, the OGC did respond already today to officially acknowledge receipt of our request).  However, the sparse data provided to Mr. Benzing was heavily redacted as “not responsive,” leaving only high-level 2014 numbers of inmates released (101), denied (121), and who died while their requests were being considered (11).  And, critically, these were only numbers relating to requests actually received by the Central Office, not including any denied by Wardens.  [The 2013 numbers were 61 released, 15 denied, and 12 who died.  This seems to indicate that Wardens began forwarding many more compassionate release requests to the Central Office in 2014, but the proportion of requests approved by the Central Office also dropped significantly.]

You’ll notice I wrote above that the compassionate release policy changes at the BOP seem to have brought real progress.  With the release of this information, we will see whether they have followed through on implementing their policy, and whether it has translated into more inmates actually being released.  Keep an eye on this blog for more updates and analysis on the evolving compassionate release process, including the related Sentencing Guidelines Amendments set to go into effect November, 2016.

Joseph D. Allen, Esq.


Joseph D. Allen, Esq.

Senior Counsel, Criminal Justice Services at National Center on Institutions and Alternatives