The United States Sentencing Commission has voted to expand guidelines for federal inmates to apply for compassionate release from prison. The expansion comes as the panel considers a broader range of amendments that are seen as a major reform to the country’s criminal justice system.
On Wednesday, the seven-member Sentencing Commission, on a vote of 4-3, approved a new policy that expanded the criteria for what could qualify as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to grant a federal inmate a compassionate release. The new policy would also give judges more discretion to determine when a sentence reduction can be granted. One of the new categories that could make a federal inmate eligible for compassionate release is if they become the victim of sexual assault by a corrections officer.
The Commission’s chair, Judge Carlton Reeves, said the panel, which determines sentencing guidelines for federal judges, received thousands of public comments on its slate of reforms.
“If the commission is to select a correct policy, the fair policy, the just policy, we must listen to those who have lived out the consequences of our choices,” said Reeves. “If you have spoken to the commission, whether from the halls of Congress or the desk of a prison library, you have been heard.”
The new policy follows the First Step Act that was signed into law in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, which expanded compassionate release for sick and elderly federal inmates. The requests for compassionate release increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 7,014 motions filed during the 2020 fiscal year. The requests made during that time were not consistently granted without the guidance of the commission.
On Thursday, a report that revealed Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did not publicly disclose the luxury trips he received from a Texas businessman for decades prompted Senate Democrats to call for an investigation. The report by ProPublica found that Thomas vacationed with Republican megadonor Harlan Crow on his private jet and superyacht in the country as well as overseas.
The report said that the frequency of the gifts has “no known precedent in the modern history of the US Supreme Court.” The revelation brings forth questions over possible conflicts of interest that involve the justices and the court, which has come under increasing scrutiny over its lack of a formal ethics code.
Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said the committee “will act” based on the findings of the report but did not reveal further details.