For those whose lengthy incarceration is driven by cannabis related offenses, the injustice is particularly striking. As the United States moves away from the criminalization of cannabis, giving rise to a major new industry, there remains the fundamental injustice inflicted upon those who have suffered criminal convictions and the attendant consequences of those convictions. Those consequences include imprisonment for the cannabis offense, a vast array of collateral impacts resulting from the conviction (even if jail was not imposed), and enhancement of sentences for other convictions because of a prior cannabis conviction. The time is right to seek redress for the individuals impacted by these consequences, to enable them to renter society where they remain incarcerated, and to restore rights that have been forfeited as a consequence of those convictions.
The impact of the United States criminal legal system does not end at the prison walls. There is a vast network of life-altering consequences millions who interact with the criminal legal system. As identified in the 2019 Shattering the Shackles of Collateral Consequences report, these penalties include restrictions on employment, housing, voting, and other opportunities. While some states have implemented mechanisms for the sealing or expunging criminal records, most are not automatic.
Recognizing this need, NACDL, with support from the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice (NFCJ), created the Return to Freedom Project (R2F). The R2F leverages NACDL’s proven ability in partnering with different organizations to recruit, train, and support pro bono volunteers on back end and post release relief initiatives. Understanding that the multifaceted problem of mass incarceration is not solved by any single solution, the R2F uses multiple types of relief, including clemency, compassionate release, and expungement to assist individuals seeking to obtaining their freedom and restore fundamental rights.
In an expansion of the R2F, NACDL has launched the Cannabis Justice Initiative in partnership with the Last Prisoner Project. Last Prisoner Project and NACDL are focused on those who are being left behind, people who continue to be punished for past conduct that is now legal under the laws of dozens of states. This shared focus is what has led the Last Prisoner Project and NACDL to establish the ‘Cannabis Justice Initiative’—a endeavor to facilitate Clemency, Compassionate Release, Expungement, and Reform.
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- Clemency is an application to the executive authority for a commutation of a sentence or a pardon.
- Compassionate release may be obtained via an application to prison authorities or, where statutorily authorized, via motion to the court in which the sentence was imposed.
- Expungement is the process of sealing or erasing criminal convictions in the eyes of the court.
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