Compassionate Release / Reduction in Sentence (RIS)

Reduction in sentence motions – the misnamed “Compassionate Release1”:
In extreme cases, the BOP may ask the sentencing court to reduce sentence for medical, family care, and other reasons. But this reduction in sentence option is sorely underused. Only 200 requests were granted in 2014 and 2015, out of thousands of applications.2

Non-Exclusive Factors to Consider

  • Nature & circumstance of offense
  • Criminal history
  • Victims
  • Detainers
  • Supervised release violations
  • Institutional adjustment / disciplinary infractions
  • Personal history (PSR)
  • Length of sentence & amount of time served (proximity to RRC/home confinement/release date)
  • Current age, age at time of offense, and sentencing
  • Inmate’s release plans (medical, financial, employment)
  • Would release pose a risk to the community? Likelihood of re-offending.

RIS Numbers

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
29 39 61 101 58*

*Through August 2015.

RIS Consideration

Eligible Not Eligible
  • Old Law Inmates (18 U.S.C. §4205(g))
  • New Law Inmates (18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1)(A))
  • D.C. Code Offenders (under D.C. Code)
  • State Borders
  • Military prisoners have applicable military code provisions

RIS Criteria: Medical

RIS requests may be granted to:

  • inmates who have been diagnosed with a terminal, incurable disease whose life expectancy is eighteen (18) months or less;
  • inmates who have an incurable, progressive illness or who have suffered a debilitating injury from which they will not recover. For inmates in this category, the Bureau will consider a compassionate release if the inmate is either completely disabled, meaning he or she cannot carry on any self-care or is totally confined to bed or chair, or is capable of only limited self-care and is confined to a bed or chair more than 50% of waking hours.

RIS Criteria: Non-medical

RIS requests may be granted to:

  • elderly inmates meeting certain criteria regarding age, and length of time served, and in some cases, medical impairments relating to age;
  • inmates who have experienced circumstances in which there has been the death of incapacitation of the family member caregiver of an inmate’s child, and;
  • inmates who have experienced circumstances in which the spouse or registered partner of an inmate has become incapacitated.


2: See Alan Ellis and EJ Hurst II, “Different Talk, Familiar Walk: More Medical and Elderly Releases under BOP’s Reduction in Sentence Program, but Other Inmates Still Out of Luck,” Criminal Justice (American Bar Association), Vol. 31, No. 3 (Fall 2016) (available online at ); see also, Human Rights Watch, “US: Prison Officials Thwart Compassionate Release” (November 30, 2012) ( and Human Rights Watch, “Many Dying and Seriously Ill, Example of 2 inmate deaths with Prostate Cancer” (November 30, 2012,) (