News & Events

KaiserDillon Works to Secure the Compassionate Release of Inmates

As part of KaiserDillon’s long-standing commitment to criminal justice reform and pro bono work, the Firm has dedicated significant resources to securing the compassionate release of inmates throughout the country under the First Step Act.  The law, passed in December 2018, authorizes inmates to seek compassionate release directly from a court, rather than having to go through the Bureau of Prisons.  In the last year, the firm has provided pro bono representation to five inmates pursuing compassionate release under the Act.

Last December, KaiserDillon attorneys Jon Jeffress and Emily Voshell won a hard-fought victory for the compassionate release of a man dying of cancer.  KaiserDillon took on the case after the Bureau of Prisons had confirmed the man’s eligibility for release and approved of his plan for release—but nonetheless had stalled his release for nearly six months.

KaiserDillon’s client had spent over half of his life incarcerated for a crime he had committed as a young man.  His and his family’s wish was for him to be able to spend what would likely be his final Christmas at home with his family.  KaiserDillon secured his release just a few days before the holiday.  “It was a lot of work to get to [that] point and it would never have happened without Emily’s determination and hard work,” said Jeffress the day the court granted the motion for compassionate release.

In another case, KaiserDillon helped secure the release of a man diagnosed with a terminal illness, who had already served over three fourths of his sentence for a drug-related offense.  Although KaiserDillon’s client only had six months to live, the government opposed his motion for compassionate release, arguing that he posed a danger to the community.  The Court rejected the government’s argument, noting that the man had done nothing to suggest “violent or dangerous behavior that would pose a risk to [his] community,” and granted his motion for release.  The client, who passed away five months after the Court’s decision, was able to spend his remaining days with his brother, who had long been fighting for his release.

And in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, KaiserDillon has dedicated even greater resources to its compassionate release work.

Due to cramped quarters, delayed medical treatment, spotty testing, and limited hygienic options, among other issues, inmates have faced a tragic wave of illness and death due to COVID-19.  Seven of the ten largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States have been at correctional facilities.  And the infection rate for inmates is two-and-a-half times greater than the general population.  So, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to Jeffress and Voshell, KaiserDillon lawyers Matt Kaiser, Scott Bernstein, and Courtney Forrest—with the assistance of members of the firm’s staff, including Diana Castillo, Gabrielle Derosier, and Finbar Kantor—have dedicated their time and efforts to secure the compassionate release of inmates at federal facilities throughout the United States.

In the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, KaiserDillon has already won an important ruling.  Under the law governing motions for compassionate release, an inmate has to wait 30 days after requesting compassionate release from the Bureau of Prisons before he or she can ask for the same from a court.  In the age of COVID-19, however, 30 days could mean life or death for some inmates.  KaiserDillon attorneys successfully argued that the court could use its discretion and ignore the 30-day requirement.  The ruling was particularly important because the same judge had previously ruled that he did not have such discretion—so KaiserDillon convinced the judge to change his position.  As far as we are aware, the decision was the first in the District to say that courts could ignore the 30-day requirement.

KaiserDillon attorneys are also fighting for the compassionate release of two inmates housed at prisons that have become hot spots for the virus.  These cases are pending a court’s decision, and the Firm is hopeful that their clients will be released to their families with their health intact.

KaiserDillon has worked with The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse on its pro bono cases.  The Clearinghouse, a joint effort of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, identifies federal prisoners who are eligible for compassionate release, have applied, and have been denied or ignored by the Bureau of Prisons.  You can read more about the Clearinghouse on FAMM’s website: