Since January of 2019, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, in partnership with FAMM and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has recruited lawyers to provide representation to prisoners who are terminally ill, have a disabling condition, are of advanced age, or have other special circumstances to seek compassionate release. The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse project grew out of the changes in the law under the First Step Act that expanded relief for federal prisoners, expanded to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and expanded again to include District prisoners in the wake of local laws changes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue of compassionate release even more urgent. Prisoners are at an unusually high risk for infection from COVID-19. They live in congregate settings, have no control over their environment, have no effective means to physically distance, encounter staff who enter and leave the prison daily without proper screening, and lack access to necessary medical care. Screening, identification, quarantine and isolation practices are woefully deficient in the prison setting.
In response to the pandemic, more than 340 law firms and organizations have stepped forward across our DC compassionate release and federal COVID-19 projects to make this work possible. Through these efforts, more than 730 prisoners seeking compassionate release have had their cases placed with pro bono counsel and approximately 60 have been granted compassionate release thus far.
If you would like to get involved with the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, sign up for a volunteer training here. You can also hear from one of the hundreds of pro bono attorneys who are involved in the Clearinghouse about why this work is so important by watching the video below.