New Sentencing Commission Report Analyzes 2020 Compassionate Release Trends

By S. Priana Aquino

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released a new report that examines trends in compassionate release during fiscal year 2020 in light of the enactment of the First Step Act of 2018, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of the First Step Act of 2018 and the more recent and devastating impact of the COVID-19 epidemic are discussed in this report, which focuses on patterns in compassionate release decisions in fiscal year 2020.

It offers specific information on the reasons courts used to grant or deny 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(1)(A) motions, as well as the nature of the relief offered to offenders who received a sentence reduction.

Senior U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer, Acting Chair of the Commission, stated, “I am pleased that the Commission has issued this comprehensive report on compassionate release trends in fiscal year 2020.

“This report builds on the Commission’s significant work in this area, including a report on the first year of implementation of the First Step Act and the Commission’s previously released quarterly data reports analyzing motions for compassionate release,” Breyer added.

This study examines geography, demographics, offense type, criminal history, and chosen offense characteristics of offenders who were granted or denied compassionate release in fiscal year 2020.

It then moves on to criminals who have been given compassionate release, outlining the reasons for the relief provided by the courts as well as the type of the relief received.

Additionally, it concentrates on offenders who were granted relief in fiscal year 2020, outlining the grounds given by courts. This study also compares and contrasts data from the Commission’s First Step Act Year One Report and the demographics of the federal prison population where applicable.

The vast majority of compassionate release decisions examined in this report happened in the second part of the fiscal year, shortly after the epidemic began.

As a result, this research focuses primarily on the first response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is not indicative of later trends in compassionate release once COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, nor is it predictive of future trends.

“Unfortunately, in the intervening time between enactment of the First Step Act and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission lost its quorum, rendering it unable to amend the compassionate release policy statement,” said Judge Breyer.

He added, “The absence of this guidance has resulted in a lack of uniformity in how compassionate release motions are considered and applied across the country.

“This report underscores why it is crucial for the Commission to regain a quorum to again have the ability to address important policy issues in the criminal justice system, such as compassionate release,” added Breyer.

“Nevertheless, I am proud of the extensive work the Commission did to compile this insightful data. I believe this report will provide valuable information to lawmakers, the Courts, advocacy organizations, and the American public,” he noted.

About The Author

S. Priana Aquino is a rising Senior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in Business with minors in Legal Studies and Public Service & Community Engagement. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend law school and continue her work in uplifting and advocating for communities of color.

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