Federal Prison Officials Granted Only 36 of 31,000 Compassionate Release Requests During Pandemic


New Bureau of Prisons data shows federal officials approved dramatically fewer applications for compassionate release during the Covid-19 pandemic than the year before, The Marshall Project reported.

In 2019, the BOP director approved 55 out of 1,735 compassionate release requests.

But in the 13 months after the pandemic hit in March 2020, the new director approved only 36 requests—out of nearly 31,000.

More than 49,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons have gotten sick and 256 have died since last spring.

Thirty-five died while waiting for a decision on their requests for compassionate release.

People who are incarcerated are at great risk of sickness and death as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The inability to quarantine or practice social distancing, together with overcrowding, imperils the lives of many people incarcerated in state and federal prisons.

BOP’s failure to release people facing elevated risks of serious illness or death from Covid-19 forced federal judges to act.

Of the 3,221 people who have been granted compassionate release since the pandemic started, 99% were granted by federal judges over BOP’s objections.

Federal prosecutors fought most compassionate release requests in court, The Marshall Project reports. Despite opposition from Justice Department lawyers, federal judges approved 21% of the requests they considered in 2020.

The Marshall Project reported last fall that the BOP rejected or ignored more than 98% of requests during the first three months of the pandemic. Updated data shows that BOP wardens gave first-level approval to fewer requests as the pandemic continued, with their approval rate falling from 1.4% in the first three months to 1.2% by the end of April 2021.

Even as more than 200 people in federal custody died of Covid-19, BOP Director Michael Carvajal granted just 0.1% of the applications his wardens approved during the pandemic.