Justice Dept. Struggles to Carry Out Early Release Program for Abused Inmates

In late January, the general counsel of the prison bureau denied an application filed by Aimee Chavira, 43, who claimed her experience at the Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, near Oakland, Calif., made her eligible for immediate release on humanitarian grounds. She is among a number of women who have detailed pervasive misconduct during their incarceration at Dublin, and five former employees, including the warden, have been charged with sexual abuse.

Ms. Chavira’s case — the first of its kind to make its way through the system — is seen by prisoners’ rights groups as a key test of the department’s commitment to use so-called compassionate release protocols for victims of abuse.

But doing so represents a shock to an institution more focused on locking up inmates than letting them go. Prison officials, and judges — who are the ultimate arbiters — have been reluctant to support early release unless an inmate is ill, dying or incapacitated by age, and more than four-fifths of compassionate release requests are rejected in court.