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Compassionate release is a legal system that grants inmates early release from prison sentences on special grounds such as terminal illness or a child in the community with an urgent need for his or her incarcerated guardian. Compassionate release procedures, which are also known as medical release, medical parole, medical furlough and humanitarian parole, can be mandated by the courts or by internal corrections authorities. Unlike parole, compassionate release is not based on a prisoner's behavior or sentencing, but on medical or humanitarian changes in the prisoner's situation.

In 2009, Corrections systems with compassionate release procedures include the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (often known as the BOP), Scotland, China, France, New Zealand and 36 of the 50 U.S. state prison systems.

United States Federal Bureau of Prisons

In the BOP, inmates file a petition for Compassionate release with the Warden. The inmate may only initiate a request "when there are particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonably have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing."

United Kingdom

England and Wales

On August 6, 2009, it was announced that Ronnie Biggs, the last surviving member of the group of men responsible for perpetrating Britain's Great Train Robbery marker was released on compassionate grounds.


The Scottish legal system permits compassionate release for terminal illness. There are only a few applications per year, and most are granted. A prominent case was that of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, released on 2009-08-20 because of prostate cancer.

New Zealand

The New Zealand legal system allows compassionate release for terminal illness or pregnancy, there are only a small number of applications each year.


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