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Graphic: NACDL Return to Freedom Project

Pro Bono Opportunities in Clemency & Compassionate Release

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has long advocated for relief for individuals serving overly harsh sentences. The results of its advocacy are evident as states across the nation and political spectrum are now recognizing the human, economic, and social costs of these policies, and have enacted reforms. However, most of these reforms are not applied retroactively, thus leaving behind individuals already serving substantial sentences. The only avenue for those left languishing in America’s prisons is back-end relief such as clemency and compassionate release.

NACDL’s Return to Freedom Project (R2F) helps those languishing in prison by partnering with different organizations to recruit, train, and support pro bono volunteers on clemency, compassionate release, and expungement. There are powerful advocates in every state fighting on behalf of those left behind, and the R2F partners with these groups to support and amplify their work.

The R2F unites projects such as the Excessive Sentence Project, the Trial Penalty Clemency Project, the Cannabis Justice Initiative, and other clemency and compassionate release efforts under a single banner at NACDL.

Since the launch of the NACDL/FAMM State Clemency Project in 2017, the Return to Freedom Initiatives have:

  • Recruited 2,050 volunteers from 500 firms and other organizations,
  • Received 9,500 applications for assistance,
  • Placed 1,250 cases with firms,
  • Filed 1,295 petitions and motions for relief with our Federal/state/local public defender partners,
  • Regained freedom for 248 individuals,
  • Reduced sentences by 1,425 years, and
  • Freed 32 Lifers (or life equivalent)

Learn more about R2F’s various initiatives and find out how to volunteer to take a case at

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