The Federal Bureau of Prisons has decided to deny “compassionate release” to Lynne F. Stewart, a polarizing defense attorney who represented reviled clients like mafia hit man Salvatore Gravano and terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.*1 Ms. Stewart was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2010, after the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that her original term of 28 months was too lenient (Ms. Stewart had said in an interview that she could do the 28 months “standing on her head,” and the government then appealed). Her sentence was for smuggling secret messages to Sheik Rahman’s radical followers in Egypt. That was then, this is now.
Now, Ms. Stewart is a 73-year-old federal prisoner, incarcerated at Federal Medical Center Carswell, and dying of cancer. In July 2012, FMC Carswell medical staff located a mass in her left lung, which was eventually determined to be cancer, a recurrence of a successful battle against the disease in 2005.*2 Since then, the cancer has spread to her lungs, lymph system, and bones. The metastatic cancer is spreading and is undisputedly killing her, even if the Federal Bureau of Prisons disputes how quickly she will die.
According to the New York Times, “The release of a dying [federal] inmate must follow a request by the Bureau that seeks a compassionate release from a judge.” The judge must then grant the release. This authority is not granted to the U.S. District Court without a referral from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The New York Times continues, “In weighing the issue, the Bureau considers the inmate’s condition and whether the inmate could pose a threat outside prison[.]” New regulations now expand the guidelines for compassionate release to those with a “terminal, incurable disease [and an inmate] whose life expectancy is 18 months or less.” This is an expansion from the previous 12 month range. The Federal Bureau of Prisons must find “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances to grant the compassionate release request.
In April, Ms. Stewart filed her compassionate release request with the prison administration at FMC Carswell.*3 In May the compassionate release request was recommended for approval by the FMC Carswell warden, the first step in the compassionate release process. In June, the request was subsequently denied by the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Central Office, on the basis that her body was responding to the cancer treatments and the Bureau’s estimation that she would not die within 18 months.