Due to his chronic illness, low threat and old age, a prisoner previously sentenced to life in prison was released yesterday after 21 years behind bars, and he has the First Step Act to thank.
Until recently, compassionate release was nearly impossible to obtain by chronically ill and elderly prisoners that it was meant to benefit, because it was not widely known about, applications were hard to complete and timely responses were not required.
Now, thanks to the First Step Act, compassionate release processes have been altered in an attempt to better provide benefits for the prisoners that it applies to. It changed and expanded criteria to be considered, gave prisoners the right to appeal a denial of their request directly to court and called for notification and assistance with the application process as well as timely responses to requests.
This is why the 76-year-old prisoner that was charged with running a large cocaine distribution ring 21 years ago was granted release yesterday due to his multiple, severe medical conditions. The Bureau of Prisons had denied his request for release when it was made in September; however, the First Step Act allowed him to appeal the decision to the courts, where he won the appeal.
This man, deemed to no longer be a threat to society, can now be cared for by his family in the comfort of his daughter’s home for the remainder of his life. Without the appeal power given through the First Step Act, he would be uncomfortably suffering with his conditions until he died in prison.
Essentially, the First Step Act took some power back from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which through their lack of accountability and transparency have allowed so many situations within prisons, such as the issues within the compassionate release process, to be mishandled and kept from the general public.
Because compassionate release is now more accessible, our criminal justice system not only provides a better situation for the elderly or chronically ill and their families near the end of their lives, but it allows the prisoners to obtain better, more convenient treatment and also takes some pressures off our taxpayers by reducing treatment costs within the prisons, allowing multiple different stakeholders to benefit.