Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Second Look Resentencing: The Human Costs Of The BOP’s Restrictive Implementation Of Compassionate Release

Phillip Smith contacted our office because, even though he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, the Bureau of Prisons refused to allow his sentencing judge to decide whether to grant a motion to reduce his sentence and let him die at home. After about two weeks of litigation, the BOP agreed to file the motion, which the judge immediately signed. After release, Phillip sat down with us to describe his experience with a system that failed to even alert his judge to his terminal illness until he had almost no time left. The video with Phillip's story in his own words is available here. Phillip died a week after the interview.

Legal arguments are one thing; the practical and human costs are another. Phillip hoped that by putting a human face on the problem, things would change for the hundreds of prisoners whose sentencing judges never even know of the extraordinary and compelling circumstances that warrant a second look resentencing. To put the issue into perspective, here are three posts that provide relevant historical and legal links:

• The pleadings and a fuller description of legal issues in Phillip's legal case are set out in Putting The Compassion Into "Compassionate Release"

• The federal defenders' hopeful view of the Sentencing Commission’s 2007 interpretation of the second look statute and their legal objections filed that year to the BOP's rules are set out in Neglected Compassion: Reduction Of Federal Prison Terms Under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)

• The analysis of overall BOP policies and practices resulting in over-incarceration, including the failure to fully implement the second look statute, are set out in GAO Shows BOP How To Save Millions By Implementing Ameliorative Sentencing Statutes

We can hope that the powerful legal arguments, with the powerful practical and humane considerations, will someday lead to real change.

Steve Sady, Chief Deputy Federal Public Defender, Portland, Oregon


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