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New Proposed Law Will Lower the Amount of Time Served for Older or Medically Ill Inmates

A group of U.S. senators is pushing to expand compassionate release eligibility for elderly federal inmates during the pandemic and beyond. The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 seeks to bring parts of the First Step Act in line with the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ elderly population.

The bill would reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program for elderly and terminally ill inmates, establishing vulnerability to COVID-19 due to age or ill health as a basis for compassionate release. Offenders over the age of 60 with pre-existing medical conditions account for more than half of the over 200 incarcerated people who have died from COVID-19 over the past year.

Beyond providing older and more vulnerable inmates with easier access to home confinement, the bill would also temporarily shorten the judicial review period for COVID-19-related home confinement requests from 30 to 10 days. This speedy-review measure is designed to end when the pandemic does, specified in the bill as 30 days after the BOP stops its modified pandemic-era operations and returns to normal functioning.

The legislation would also permanently expand the eligibility criteria for compassionate release within the pilot program by trimming the required length of time served from ⅔ to ½ of a sentence, minus any credits for good behavior.

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