Man in suit signing documentThis post is intended to provide information to Austin, Texas residents about securing the release of federal prisoners during the current COVID-19 crisis. The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on detention facilities has been well reported by the news media. Prisons, by their very nature, are particular hotbeds for the spread of the disease. The lack of cleaning supplies, close quarters, and reduced access to medical care creates a serious risk to inhabitants and staff alike. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has taken a number of steps to help decrease the risk, such as limiting visitor access, restricting the movements of prisoners, and segregating sick inmates from the general population. These actions, however, fall short when it comes to protecting the elderly and otherwise vulnerable from widespread infection. The Attorney General has recently issued guidance outlining factors to be considered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and BOP for releasing inmates in light of COVID-19 concerns. Based on this guidance, it may be possible to obtain an early release for certain prisoners through the compassionate release program. If you or a loved one need assistance securing a prisoner’s release, contact my office to speak with an Austin criminal defense attorney.

Austin attorney assisting federal prisoners with Compassionate Release requests during the Coronavirus pandemic

Compassionate release is a program established under federal law allowing for the early release from federal prison if justified by “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” A person who is released from prison pursuant to this program will receive probation or supervised release for up to the remaining term of the original sentence. For some inmates with specific COVID-19 concerns, the compassionate release statute may provide a mechanism to seek safety from the virus outside of the prison walls. While the DOJ does not currently have specific authority to release federal inmates for COVID-19 prevention or treatment, the BOP and many federal courts have interpreted the “extraordinary and compelling” standard to include the current pandemic. These decisions have been far from consistent. When it comes to COVID-19 requests, what federal courts determine are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” will be highly fact-specific.

The compassionate release process typically begins with a written request from an inmate or a third party on the inmate’s behalf, which is submitted directly to the warden. The request must contain an explanation of the compelling circumstances justifying release as well as a proposed release plan. The plan should include information about living arrangements, how the inmate will support themself, the ability to comply with supervision requirements, and a medical treatment plan, if applicable. The warden will review the request and, if it warrants approval, will refer the issue to the appropriate personnel within the BOP. If BOP agrees, they can file a motion in the federal court in the district where sentencing occurred. Once the motion is filed, either by BOP or directly by an attorney, the judge will make the ultimate decision. When based upon a medical reason, these requests are often expedited. If a request is denied, a prisoner may file a request directly with the sentencing court after exhausting all administrative remedies. This requirement normally includes a thirty-day waiting period after the initial denial. Some federal courts have been waiving this rule in cases related to COVID-19 due to the urgency involved in protecting inmates and staff from the spread of the virus.

It is important to understand that not all requests for early release will be successful. How federal courts will rule on compassionate release motions in Coronavirus cases is still unclear. For this reason, it is imperative that requests include all relevant information about one’s underlying health concerns, any pre-existing conditions, current illness, age, or other factors justifying the request. For example, a request conveying a general fear of contracting COVID-19 will not be as persuasive as describing one’s history of asthma and diabetes along with supporting medical reports. It will also be essential to provide as much information as possible regarding one’s criminal history, release plans, positive behavior, and personal achievements during incarceration. Whether the prisoner poses an ongoing risk to the safety of others in the community will be a primary concern. Certain other restrictions, such as the age of the prisoner, the type of offense, and amount of time served may also apply. I am a criminal defense attorney who understands the importance of clearly and effectively presenting this information in a request for early release. Once retained, I will thoroughly review your situation and help prepare initial requests to the warden and all necessary court filings on your behalf.

Austin criminal defense attorney helping inmates during the coronavirus crisis

Compassionate release is available to those who have been convicted of a federal offense. Inmates imprisoned for state offenses may have other options available to secure early release for COVID-19 related reasons. For those who have not yet been convicted and are being held in a facility before trial or sentencing, it may be possible to reopen a pretrial hearing depending on the circumstances of your detention. Finally, in other limited cases, state or federal pardons or clemency requests may provide relief. If you or a loved one fear for your safety in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact our office today to speak with an Austin, Texas attorney.

I am certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in criminal law and have been practicing for over 25 years. I will review your case history and assist you with the compassionate release process every step of the way. I understand the urgency behind such requests and, therefore, will respond to phone calls and inquiries in a timely manner in order to answer your questions and concerns. We can handle client meetings via telephone and video conferencing in observance of social distancing guidelines.

In addition to Austin, I also serve the cities of Rollingwood, Round Rock, Elgin, Jonestown, Manor, Bee Cave, Lago Vista, Sunset Valley, Lakeway, Creedmoor, Georgetown, Cedar Park, Leander, and San Marcos, Texas.

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