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Compassionate Release from Prison

Who Qualifies for Compassionate Release?

Compassionate release is available to inmates in 49 states ― including ― Ohio and the District of Columbia. It allows for the early release of an inmate who is suffering from a terminal illness, old age, sickness, debilitation, or extreme family circumstances. If a judge finds that these factors outweigh the importance of continued imprisonment, then a prisoner could obtain compassionate release.

Compassionate release may be granted if authorities find that the cost of housing, accommodation, and medical care for aging and disabled prisoners is too expensive, as well as find that the prisoner is unlikely to commit another offense (recidivate). Prison systems also recognize that families suffer when they cannot comfort their incarcerated loved ones, settle affairs, and restore relationships with prisoners as their life comes to an end.

That being said, how does compassionate release work?

In Ohio, compassionate release is treated as parole. Thus, prisoners who obtain compassionate release as if on parole will need to follow several conditions of supervision in Ohio, which include:

  • Following federal, state, and local laws and ordinances, including those related to illegal drug use and registration with authorities
  • Having no contact with the victim of their convicted offense
  • Following all orders given by the supervising officer or other authorized representatives of the Court or the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, including, but not limited to obtaining permission from the supervising officer before changing residences and submitting to drug testing
  • Obtaining a written travel permit from the Adult Parole Authority before leaving the State of Ohio
  • Not purchasing, possessing, owning, using, or having control of any firearms, ammunition, dangerous ordnance, devices used to immobilize or deadly weapons and obtaining written permission prior to residing in a residence where these items are securely located

As you can see, compassionate release does not mean a prisoner is “free” and good to go. They are still treated as parolees, although, obeying these conditions of parole is much more desirable than staying in prison.

Advocates for compassionate release argue that prison is meant to deter crime, punish offenders, protect the public, and rehabilitate prisoners who will be released one day. Thus, if a prisoner is too sick or disabled to commit further crimes, benefit from rehab, or understand the gravity of their punishment, then proponents believe compassionate release should be offered.

Ohio Compassionate Release Laws

Ohio only grants compassionate release for eligible prisoners who are in imminent danger of death, terminal illness, or medical incapacitation through:

  • Judicial release
  • Release as if on parole
  • Medical release for “old law” prisoners

Judicial Release Process

A prisoner cannot obtain compassionate release if they have a death sentence or life sentence. With that in mind, eligibility requirements for compassionate release through the Judicial Release process include:

  • The prisoner is in imminent danger of death
  • The prisoner is terminally ill, which means a condition that:
    • Is irreversible and incurable, caused by disease, illness, or injury from which the prisoner is unlikely to recover
    • Will, within “reasonable medical standards and a reasonable degree of medical certainty,” cause death within 12 months
  • The prisoner is medically incapacitated, which means any diagnosable medical condition that:
    • Prevents completion of activities of daily living (including, but not limited to, feeding, bathing, dressing, and grooming) without significant assistance
    • Incapacitates the prisoner to the extent that institutional confinement offers no additional restrictions
    • Is likely to continue through the entire period of parole
    • Is unlikely to noticeably improve

A prisoner who meets one of these criteria may continue with the process. A sentencing court may reduce the inmate’s prison term at any time in their sentence. However, the Warden must still provide the court with a Summary Report on the prisoner’s conduct, which should include their participation in school, work, treatment, vocational training, etc. The prisoner’s Chief Medical Officer must also certify that the prisoner is in imminent danger of death, suffering from a terminal illness, or medically incapacitated.

Once these criteria are met, the sentencing court will conduct a decision-making process that looks like such:

  • The court may deny the request without a hearing or schedule a hearing
  • If the court schedules a hearing, it will be conducted 30 to 60 days after the motion is filed, although, the court may delay the hearing for 180 extra days
  • The prisoner may or may not have to attend the hearing for Judicial release depending on their circumstances
  • At the hearing, the prisoner and their attorney will present written and/or oral testimony as to why the prisoner should get compassionate release
  • The court will review healthcare documents and consider whether the prisoner’s release would create an undue risk to public safety
  • A ruling will be made within 10 days of the hearing
  • If compassionate release through the Judicial Release process is granted, the prisoner will be released under an appropriate community control sanction, such as parole

Release as If on Parole of Dying Prisoner

Although it may seem like it, a prisoner does not have to be dying to be eligible for this type of compassionate release. However, the prisoner must meet the same medical eligibility criteria as those for Judicial Release. From there, the Director of the Department must submit a recommendation and a certificate from the prisoner’s physician confirming that they meet the medical eligibility requirements.

Then, the Division of Legal Services will investigate the prisoner’s eligibility for compassionate release. If the Division finds that the prisoner is eligible for a form of compassionate release (i.e., Judicial Release or Release as if on Parole), then the Director will forward all necessary documents to the Governor, who will make the final decision on whether or not to grant Release as if on Parole.

Medical Release for “Old Law” Prisoners

Those convicted of a crime before July 1, 1996, are considered “old law” prisoners. As with Judicial Release and Release as if on Parole, the medical release eligibility criteria are the same for old law prisoners. If a prisoner meets these requirements, then the Chief Medical Officer will issue a certificate containing details such as the prisoner’s diagnosis and ambulatory status, and from there, a Legal Services attorney will investigate to determine if the old law prisoner is eligible for a “Parole Board medical release.”

If the prisoner is eligible, then the Ohio Parole Board will make the final decision as to whether or not they should be released.

Questions? We Can Provide Answers.

As you can see, compassionate release is not just granted to anyone. Prisoners must meet strict eligibility criteria and even then, they may not be granted compassionate release. For these reasons and more, we strongly encourage you to get in touch with our experienced and knowledgeable lawyers to get clarity on whether your loved one could potentially obtain compassionate release. Given the circumstances and spread rate of COVID-19 in densely populated areas like prisons, it’s important to take necessary action to keep your loved one safe.

We can help answer any questions you have on compassionate release, particularly, during COVID-19. To get in touch with us, contact (937) 403-9033!