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Compassionate Release A 'Dead Letter'?

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Sentencing Commission are at loggerheads over a commission proposal to expand the extraordinary circumstances that make prisoners eligible for so-called compassionate release or reduction in sentence.

The commission in early May sent Congress a proposed sentencing guideline that, for the first time in 24 years, would give courts guidance on what should be considered extraordinary and compelling grounds for adjusting a sentence.

The guideline broadens the grounds beyond current policy at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and comes at a time when the Justice Department is in the final stage of approving a regulation that narrows even further the current policy.

The American Bar Association, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and other groups had urged the commission for years to act on a mandate to the commission in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. In that law, Congress mandated that the commission issue policy statements on how the law's compassionate-release section should operate and what factors should be considered extraordinary and compelling.

The Bureau of Prisons has interpreted the law narrowly, generally only approving motions for cases in which a prisoner is terminally ill or incapacitated by illness. The Justice Department warned last summer that any expansion of current policy would be a "dead letter".

Despite the department's opposition, the commission defines extraordinary and compelling reasons as: " terminal illness; a permanent physical or medical condition, or deteriorating physical or mental health because of the aging process, that "substantially diminishes" the prisoner's ability to provide self-care; the death or incapacitation of the prisoner's only family member capable of caring for the prisoner's minor child or minor children; or, as determined by the Bureau of Prisons, there is an extraordinary and compelling reason other than, or in combination with, the reasons described".

Since 1990, the Bureau of Prisons has filed an average of only 22 sentence-reduction motions each year despite a steadily increasing federal prison population. -- Source: National Law Journal

Alva Mae Groves

Sentenced To 25 Years At Age 72

I am now 86 years old and have been incarcerated since 1994.Although I was charged with Drug Conspiracy, my real crime, according to today's laws of betrayal, was refusing to testify against my own children to receive a sentence reduction.

Of course I didn't really understand all the talk about enhancements, acceptance of responsibility, and so on, that had to do with my sentencing. But I did understand that since I wouldn't turn against my own family, I was going to receive a very lengthy prison term. Never did I dream it would be twenty-five years.

When I was arrested I had $1,000.00 in the bank from selling eggs and candy. Most of it was deposited in change - nickels, dimes and quarters - and the bankers substantiated this fact. I earned that money one egg at a time, one soda pop at a time, one candy bar at a time. It wasn't from selling drugs as the government contends.

I realize everyone has a day to die; death is a fate that will not be cheated. But I don't want to die in prison. I want to die at home surrounded by the love of what's left of my family. I do not have enough years left of my life to finish serving this 25 year sentence. I'm appealing to anyone to write letters for me to the Pardon Attorney's Office in Washington while my application is still pending. -- Read more of Alva Mae's story here.

Vicki Rosepiler

Cancer Victim Serving 24 Years

I received the longest sentence (292 months) of anyone in my case. Although I pled guilty, I didn't have any key information to trade for sentence reductions. In response to my 2255 motion, the magistrate stated, "the first to squeal gets the deal."

In 2000, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was not able to receive treatment for 6 months, so the cancer spread to other areas and I was eventually flown to the federal medical facility in Carswell, TX to endure chemo, radiation and radium seeks implants (brachytherapy.) I endured all this while chained to a bed, alone and frightened. No one can imagine what this does to a person. I now value every moment and I'm thankful to be alive every day.

I have many long-term side-effects due to extensive nuclear medicine that my body endured. The odds are not in my favor that the cancer will remain in remission. There is always a high risk that it will return elsewhere. I don't want to die in prison and have worked extremely hard to better myself.

In the event I receive clemency I have a wonderful support group waiting to help me rebuild my life. I will live with my mother and father who fortunately are still healthy and have stood by me throughout this horrible nightmare. (For more info, see -- Read more of Vicki's story here.

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