News Release

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Receives 2021 Alfred McKenzie Award for Compassionate Release Clearinghouse

Washington, DC (June 16, 2021) – Today, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) was awarded the Alfred McKenzie Award during the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs’ 2021 Wiley A. Branton Awards, which celebrates organizations working to dismantle injustice and pursue lasting change. NACDL received the award for its ongoing work supporting the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse

The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse was formed in 2019 after the passage of the First Step Act in December 2018, which expanded federal compassionate release to allow prisoners to file compassionate release motions directly with their sentencing courts, and to allow sentencing courts’ discretion to reduce sentences based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” In response to COVID-19, the project expanded to include incarcerated people at risk of serious illness. The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse is a collaborative pro bono effort from FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and NACDL.

“Congratulations to NACDL, FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, and every person who has given their time and energy to the Clearinghouse,” said NACDL President Christopher Adams. “When this project was launched in 2019, nobody could have known what lay ahead in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not fully behind us, but I feel hopeful knowing how quickly the Clearinghouse adapted to meet the demands of the moment and knowing what has been accomplished thus far.”

“It has been awe-inspiring to see the number of attorneys who have given their time and support to this ongoing effort in order to save lives,” said Counsel and Director of NACDL’s First Step Act Resource Center Elizabeth Blackwood. “Of course, the work will continue and NACDL is proud to receive this award for the work that has been done, and for the life-changing work that is to come.”

“The incredible accomplishments of the Clearinghouse are possible because of the volunteers and donors who have supported the work through the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice,” said NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice President Lisa Wayne. “Thank you to the people who have generously given. Your donations have saved lives and will continue to support the work of the project.”

To date, the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse has: 

  • Recruited 1,200 volunteers from 350 firms and other organizations,
  • Received 4,100 applications for assistance,
  • Placed 790 cases with firms,
  • Filed 1,100 motions for relief with our Federal/local public defender partners,
  • Regained freedom for 225 individuals,
  • Reduced sentences by 1,200 years, and
  • Freed 25 Lifers (or life equivalent).

“The Clearinghouse was launched to provide people in prison with high-quality lawyers in the hopes they would one day return home. NACDL has long believed that all persons are deserving of a strong defense, said NACDL Return to Freedom Project Manager Steven Logan. “Thank you to our partners at FAMM and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for working with NACDL to advance the mission for a fair and humane criminal legal system, while providing relief to hundreds of individuals across the country.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the number of at-risk incarcerated individuals and expanded the need for attorneys to take compassionate release cases. It has been heartening to see the number of people who answered this call by taking cases pro bono,” said D.C. Compassionate Release Project Resource Counsel and Return to Freedom Project Legal Director John Albanes. “The individuals who have been helped, and continue to be helped, are vulnerable, sick, and in need of care, so the work of the volunteers has been nothing short of life-saving.”

Donate to support the Clearinghouse     Volunteer for the Clearinghouse

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Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Associate, (202) 465-7624 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.