September 15, 2022

Mailed request by a man sentenced on federal drug charges in Glynn County seeking “compassionate release.” Coastal Georgia’s federal district has some of the lowest numbers for granting compassionate release, new data shows.

Not very ‘compassionate’

Kenneth Moore, who is serving a 14-year federal prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Glynn County, requested early release in June because of his ailing health.

Moore, 51, has prostate cancer, chronic kidney disease, and hypertension, according to court documents, and they make him more susceptible to catching COVID-19, he claims. Moore asked a federal judge to let him out on “compassionate release,” a legal act expanded in 2018 to reduce mass incarceration and allows for a prisoner’s release under “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. Prisoners have requested it in droves since 2020 when Covid first began to spread across U.S. prisons.

On July 18, Judge Lisa G. Wood, of the Southern District of Georgia, denied Moore’s request, stating his “prostate cancer appeared under control,” that Moore was vaccinated, and releasing him would not promote respect for the law or deterrence.

Wood’s ruling on compassionate release is part of a trend. In fact, Coastal Georgia’s federal district granted 2.2% of compassionate release requests it received between October 2019 to March 2022, according to new sentencing data released this month. That is the second lowest percentage of any state’s district in the country. The district received 272 motions and granted 6 of them.

The lowest percentage in the U.S. went to the Middle District of Georgia, which granted 1.7% of requests, or just 4 of 238 it received.

Georgia had some of the biggest discrepancies between districts within a state. While Georgia’s Southern District — which includes Brunswick, Savannah, and Statesboro — denied 97.8% of compassionate release motions it received, the Northern District — which includes Atlanta — granted 46% of them, 80 out of 174 the district received.

The decision to let out a prisoner on “compassionate release” comes down to individual judges making choices about individual people. Judges have to consider the seriousness of a person’s crime and the “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for release, according to federal law.

But a March report from NPR found that courts largely denied those requests, with prosecutors arguing federal prisons had taken steps to protect prisoners from Covid.

Meanwhile, NPR found that of federal prisoners who died from COVID-19, at least 1 in 4 had filed a motion in court for compassionate release.

Your tax dollars spent in Chatham County

After President Joe Biden signed into law a massive economic stimulus bill last spring, local governments began to disperse billions in Covid relief money and put much of it into the criminal justice system.

A $52.6 billion pot of money from the $1.9 trillion Congressional bill went to “revenue replacement,” a vague designation that gave governments flexibility on how to spend it, according to the Marshall Project.

A review from the criminal justice news outlet this month found that half of the $52.6 billion went to projects that mentioned police, law enforcement, courts, jails and prisons.

Chatham County allocated around $5.6 million in the form of “revenue replacement” to the courts, jail, sheriff’s office, and district attorney’s office, according to an August report from the county. Much of it was intended to help alleviate the Covid-fueled backlog in court cases.

Here are some specific projects the funds went to:

  • $811,647 for Superior Court: addressing the backlog by hiring senior “judges, temporary assistance, and other judicial officers” in order to increase court time and move through cases faster.
  • $350,000 for the Chatham County jail: hiring three staffers specific to addressing the mental health of those incarcerated at the jail, as well as keeping one staffer at the jail 24/7.
  • $1,183,593 for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office: replacing the jail and sheriff’s office’s software and records system in order to “provide better communication with local arresting agencies, the consolidated 911 center, the Clerk of Courts, District Attorneys, and Public Defenders in managing the backlog.”

Read more from the county’s report about how those dollars have been spent.

Margaret Coker/The Current

Recruitment underway

Eagle-eyed readers may spot a new sign at the Oglethorpe Mall recruiting officers for the Savannah Police Department.

The ad touts the recently achieved pay raise and monetary incentives for a newly-hired Savannah Police officer.

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Email him at Prior to joining The Current,...