Compassionate Release as Compassionate Decarceration: State Influence on Federal Compassionate Release and the Unfinished Federal Reform
59 Am. Crim. L. Rev. Online 1 (2022)
19 Pages Posted:
Date Written: January 5, 2022
The First Step Act's (FSA) compassionate release reform was a “modest but necessary” step; the pandemic and the threat it posed to the incarcerated population ought to prompt reflections on what the next steps should be. This Essay is intended to serve as both a brief historical review of state influence on federal compassionate release, and as a reflection on the unfinished compassionate release reform in terms of DOJ’s execution. Part I briefly surveys the trajectory of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) from the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) to the Prisoner-initiated & Court-ordered (PICO) compassionate release provision in the FSA, and its application in the pandemic. Part II supplements the compassionate release literature by exploring the history of PICO compassionate release in state law as a backdrop of the long-awaited federal reform allowing prisoners to petition for their own release, and it proposes that state practices, especially that of New Jersey, might have influenced the introduction and passage of FSA in part through the Model Penal Code. Part III suggests that the arc of compassionate release reform in federal law is nevertheless unfinished, with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) objection practices being part of the necessary change. Using data and cases from the District of Columbia, whose PICO compassionate release statute is modeled after federal law and clearly intended as a response to the pandemic, this Essay proposes that the DOJ's perspective and practices must change to adapt to the essential purpose of compassionate release: addressing mass incarceration in America with compassion.
Keywords: compassionate release, decarceration, mass incarceration, incarceration, first step act
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