AB 960: Expanding California Compassionate Release

Inmate praying for a California compassionate release

As an experienced criminal justice professional from San Diego, I am passionate about advocating for more humane and empathetic incarceration methods. Recently California passed AB 960, which offers a compassionate release for inmates who suffer from infirmities or are facing the inevitabilities of old age. This article will discuss the specifics of this revolutionary bill, its implication on our criminal justice system, eligibility requirements, the approval process, and how it will shape the future of compassionate release from prison in California.

Definition of Compassionate Release

Compassionate release has been a longstanding form of early parole for those who no longer can serve their entire sentence due to age, illness, or other debilitating medical conditions. By offering an alternative route out of prison and back into society since the late 1800s, this law is one way the justice system can be more empathetic.

In 1997, California made the compassionate release a legal reality. Fast-forward to 2022, and Assembly Bill 960 provided an added layer of protection for those wishing to reintegrate into society by further expanding eligibility criteria. Taking such measures has enabled more inmates to qualify for the program as they transition into the latter stages of life.

The bill also requires that inmates demonstrate they are not a risk to society before the court system considers a resentencing hearing for a subsequent release. With the new amendment, many terminally ill prisoners in California can experience freedom and spend their last days with family members outside of prison walls.

Overview of AB 960

Assembly Bill 960 (AB 960) in California is a landmark piece of legislation that allows courts to consider and reassess the sentence of inmates diagnosed with a terminal or permanent medical condition that requires 24-hour care. This comprehensive approach to improving the California Compassionate Release program has resulted in several impactful changes.

Codified timelines now ensure timely responses to applications and establish a presumption in favor of the individual unless the Court finds they are a risk to public safety. An expansion of medical eligibility criteria is now in effect, and additional licensed healthcare professionals can begin compassionate release from prison processes.

In addition, a healthcare professional must attend each court hearing, and attorneys have due process rights when applying for a compassionate release. To further protect an inmate’s rights, the Secretary of the CDCR has been removed from the approval process until the application is ready to submit to the court system, and data reporting is mandatory.

Eligibility Requirements for Compassionate Release Under AB 960

Instructor teaching a course

The eligibility requirements for a California compassionate release were the subject of modification under the AB 960 bill. The rewritten category requirements now include medical and non-medical reasons and consider public safety when determining eligibility. To be considered for this program, an individual must fulfill one of five specific categories.

Here are the rewritten requirements under AB 960:


  • Terminal medical condition
  • Debilitating medical condition
  • Completely disabled
  • Capable of only limited self-care


  • incarcerated for 30 or more years and have reached the age of 70
  • or at least 65 and have served at least ten years or 75% of the term
  • 65 or older and served 50% of the term, suffers from a chronic condition, deteriorating mental or physical health, and treatment is non-effective

Non-Medical Need to Care for a Child

  • Death or incapacitation of a family member who cared for the inmate’s child

Non-Medical II 

  • Death or incapacitation of a spouse or domestic partner with no one else to care for them other than the inmate

Additional Public Safety Criteria

  • criminal history
  • current age and age at offense
  • circumstances of the offense
  • length of sentence and the amount left to serve

To earn a resentencing hearing, the inmate must receive a medical evaluation from a licensed healthcare professional within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to qualify. Before any hearings occur, the CDCR Secretary must review the confirmation and approve the case. When the applicant has met all requirements, the Court will schedule a hearing, thus opening the door for an eventual compassionate release from prison.

Documentation Requirements for California Compassionate Release

Lawyer consulting a client

To simplify the procedure for granting compassionate release from prison as per AB 960, prisoners must submit supporting documents and a well-defined plan for their release. The documentation should prove the existence of extraordinary or compelling circumstances to warrant consideration from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Inmates must have a proposed release plan indicating where they will reside and how they will support themselves upon release. 

If health is the basis for a resentencing hearing, medical treatment and the ability to pay must also be indicated. In non-medical cases, such as a child or spouse care, documentation must prove that the caregiver has died, become incapacitated, and was the only family member capable of caregiving.

Documentation required includes a death certificate or verifiable medical records, birth certificates or adoption papers, and written authorization to allow the BOP to gather additional information from other government agencies, doctors, etc. In situations involving a spouse or a partner, the inmate must also provide documentation that the incapacitated partner wishes the prisoner to be released. 

Streamlining the approval process for a California compassionate release ensures that deserving inmates receive a fair chance if under extraordinary and compelling circumstances. This process may be lengthy, but it provides a clear pathway to obtain a resentencing hearing from the courts.

Expected Benefits For California Citizens

As we look towards the future, we must keep in mind the well-being of all Californians remains at stake. It has been well-documented that many individuals face difficulty and delays during the approval process, and by taking steps to eliminate the unnecessary waste of our resources, AB960 will benefit all citizens. If we can eliminate roadblocks and ensure a timely response to applications, it will lead to increased overall satisfaction. 

Through standardized decision-making practices in the courts, a compassionate release from prison will occur if the life expectancy is six months or less and the applicant is not a threat to society. With protections now guaranteed to the petitioner’s due process and rights to an attorney, inmates will receive the representation they deserve. 

Not only does this approach provide relief, but it will also allow the state of California to shift medical expenses to the Medicaid system and reduce spending on terminally ill inmates who pose no threat. As a result, the Bureau of Prisons will be able to put money back into an overly strained budget due to the new requirements for a California compassionate release.


In my opinion, AB960 is another step forward to attaining criminal justice reform. Undoubtedly, this progressive legislation will positively impact the future by cultivating a more rational and empathetic system. If you need help understanding these changes, contact me for a consultation. Using my expertise as a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, I will help you efficiently navigate the process to achieve the best outcome.

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.