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Return to Freedom Project

NACDL’s Return to Freedom Project helps those serving overly harsh sentences seek relief by partnering with partner organizations to recruit, train, and support pro bono volunteers to secure clemency, compassionate release, or expungement.  

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. 

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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. 

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The NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice preserves and promotes the core values of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American criminal justice system.

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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 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 over 2,320 volunteers from 550 firms and other organizations,
  • Received over 10,000 applications for assistance,
  • Placed 1,520 cases with firms,
  • Filed 1,439 petitions and motions for relief with our Federal/state/local public defender partners,
  • Regained freedom for 292 individuals,
  • Reduced sentences by 1,685 years, and
  • Freed 37 Lifers (or life equivalent).




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