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Thanks to emergency legislation recently enacted by the DC Council, there is an opportunity to seek compassionate release for individuals who are serving sentences as a result of District of Columbia convictions and who are at high risk as a result of the COVID-19 virus. There are currently more than 400 prisoners who have sought help and may qualify, but this demand exceeds the capacity of the Public Defender Service of DC and the panel attorneys. The DC Compassionate Release Project seeks pro bono assistance for these individuals and will provide training and support to the lawyers who are take cases. This is an emergency, and we need your help.
As you all know, 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. As a result, COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the nation’s prisons. In addition to facing conditions that prevent the most basic measures to prevent the spread of the virus, many prisoners are at heightened risk due to age or chronic illness.
The District of Columbia, as part of its emergency response to COVID-19, amended its criminal law to permit incarcerated persons serving sentences under the D.C. Code to seek compassionate release if they meet certain criteria, including conditions that place them at high risk if they contract COVID-19. A coalition has come together to ensure that every eligible prisoner who seeks counsel has representation through the Public Defender, a pro bono lawyer, or a lawyer appointed by the court under the Criminal Justice Act. This project is an expansion of the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse which has found counsel for more than 1,500 federal prisoners and is a partnership of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice (NFCJ), FAMM, the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the Public Defender Service, the Council for Court Excellence, the George Washington University Law Center, the Second Chances Project, and the law firms of Akin Gump and Wiley.
The DC project has produced a training program and has amassed all the resources you will need to participate. Additionally, resource counsel are available to assist as you develop the application, and hopefully bring some folks home.
If you are willing to help, please sign up at https://crclearinghouse.org/training/?init_id=dccr.