There are many early release programs, but they fall into two broad categories: federal and state. Federal programs have been limited by mandatory sentencing laws. States have a variety of early release programs, and they tend to step up their efforts in hard economic times when state budgets are tight. Prison systems, published Federal and State laws, and lawyers are a good place to learn about early release programs. If a prisoner is overseas, diplomatic efforts and Amnesty International can help.
Early Release Resources
Visit the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. The list of topics contains two potential methods for acquiring early release: Compassionate Release and Early Release Procedures. Compassionate release sometimes takes place when circumstances that the court could not have anticipated affect the prisoner, often health problems. "Early Release Procedures" makes reference to the Residential Drug Treatment Program that can reduce a prisoner's sentence by up to one year.
Examine your state department of corrections website. They generally list early release programs, how a prisoner qualifies, and the kinds of prisoners who are excluded, generally for violent offenses. Rules will vary radically from state to state, but hard economic times puts pressure on all prison systems, so releases are more likely, as reported in the Associated Press.
Comb through your state criminal codes. The code will state the laws in regard to early release possibilities. Lawyers.com lists all 50 state criminal codes at its website. This takes a lot of reading, so perfect the art of skimming. Make use of the contents and index to pinpoint release laws.
Hire a criminal lawyer. She will be familiar with release programs because she deals with them all the time. Also, early release is often achieved by lawyers proving prisoners' innocence, or by appealing cases. A handful of Illinois prisoners on death row have been found innocent through the pro bono efforts of college students.
Read about Presidential pardons at http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/pardons.htm, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. The President has the power of pardon and usually exercises it more at the end of his term, but can use it at any time. President Jimmy Carter, for example, used this power to pardon Vietnam War draft evaders. Prisoners with notable cases might find it worthwhile to try.
Lobby politicians to exert diplomatic pressure if the prisoner is in a foreign country. The State Department is usually working hard for the release of American prisoners overseas, somewhere.
Notify Amnesty International if the prisoner is overseas. They conduct letter writing campaigns and exert pressure on governments to treat prisoners fairly and to release political prisoners. Their track record is good.