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NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Apr 06, 2020

FAMM, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NACDL Launch Emergency Compassionate Release Effort

In a massive pro bono effort, our groups are recruiting, training, and supporting lawyers who agree to represent individuals in federal prisons eligible for compassionate release and those at special risk due to COVID-19.

WASHINGTON – In an effort to save as many lives as possible during the coronavirus pandemic, The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse launched an emergency release initiative that is designed to match qualified individuals in federal prisons who are applying for compassionate release with free legal counsel.  The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse is a collaborative pro bono effort from FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

"Extraordinary times call for extraordinary efforts,” said Kevin Ring, president of FAMM. “We do not know how many vulnerable people we will be able to get out before COVID-19 spreads, but we are going to do everything in our power to secure release for as many as possible. This is not only a matter of criminal justice — it is a public health imperative."

The COVID-19 pandemic has made release for those who qualify for compassionate release under current criteria due to illness or age more urgent. We also believe that people who are vulnerable due to underlying health conditions or age to serious illness or death should they contract the virus must be considered for release as well. The Centers for Disease Control consider the most vulnerable to include people over 65 years old, and people with a condition that affects their lungs, heart, kidney, immune system, or who have another serious chronic medical condition. There are more than 10,000 people in federal prison who are over 60 years old. Many are in poor health.

The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse-COVID 19 Project recruits, trains, and provides resources to participating lawyers.

"The outpouring of support from law firms around the country in response to this crisis is gratifying," said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. "We have already seen remarkable success with cases handled through the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse over the past year. The rapid spread of COVID-19 in prison demands urgent action to protect vulnerable prisoners from infection, provide safety to staff and ensure that our public health system is not overwhelmed by a prison-based epidemic."

Federal law provides that individuals whose requests for compassionate release have been denied or ignored by the Bureau of Prisons, or for whom the exhaustion requirement is waivable, may file a motion in court. The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse has received over 400 requests for assistance by people prison since COVID-19 concerns began. Over 300 lawyers, from solo practitioners to lawyers at large law firms, as well as federal public defenders, social workers and other advocates have answered the call.

"The coronavirus epidemic is a medical emergency," said NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. "It is America’s health care workers who are on the front lines. They and all the essential workers providing food, supplies, and transportation are the heroes in this struggle. But lawyers too can help save lives. Historically, compassionate release provided an opportunity for the very sick, infirm individuals in federal prisons to enjoy the dignity and comfort of ending their lives surrounded by loved ones. But now, we can use this law to save lives that otherwise might be lost to this raging virus. Already hundreds of lawyers have volunteered. They too are heroes."

While many attorneys have already answered the call to help, the Clearinghouse continues actively to recruit additional attorneys and law firms to join in the effort. One can volunteer at https://crclearinghouse.org/training/.

This article was syndicated from the NACDL website and originally appeared on:

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NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Founded in 1958, NACDL is the largest organization for criminal defense lawyers fighting to preserve fairness within America's criminal justice system. The organization has more than 10,000 direct members including criminal defense attorneys in private practice, public defenders in state or federal court, U.S. military defense counsel, law professors and judges.