The Prisoner & Reentry Clinic is Reuniting Families through Compassionate Release Cases

April 26, 2022

Man handing a woman a box of items

The Prisoner & Reentry Clinic's client is not pictured here. The above photo is a stock image.

This year, student attorneys in the Prisoner & Reentry Clinic (PARC) led by Director Jessica Steinberg with the support of Friedman Fellow Elenore Wade won a grant of compassionate release for Forest, a client who had been incarcerated for forty years, and he came home this Spring.

PARC initially contacted Forest, over a decade ago, to see if he was interested in filing a motion under a new DC law that allows people who committed crimes in their youth to be resentenced based on their rehabilitation in prison. When the students analyzed his records and did more research, it became clear he would be an even better candidate for relief under DC’s compassionate release law, which allows older adults and people with serious medical conditions to request release if they can demonstrate rehabilitation to the court.

During the Fall 2021 semester, the student attorneys wrote a motion that did such a fantastic job representing all of our client's great work over the past four decades that the prosecutor only partially opposed the motion, which is incredibly rare in PARC’s work. This Spring semester, a new group of student attorneys continued to work with Forest through the government’s response and wrote a well-researched reply on some complicated legal issues surrounding probation and supervision across multiple jurisdictions. The student attorneys also got in contact with local organizations that committed to helping our client meet his needs when he is released. In the judge's written order granting the motion, the judge repeated back much of the legal analysis the students wrote; that's a sign of how insightful and well-reasoned their arguments were.

Forest’s is also a good example of PARC's commitment to our clients over time. We had previously represented our client in a parole hearing several years ago, but he was denied parole. When a new remedy that fit him became available, we contacted him again to ask if he would like to work with us. This turned out to be really important because he, unlike many of our other clients, hadn't even heard of these new laws that could release him from his life sentence, so he may not have known relief was available had we not reached out.

Now, Forest is already home and living with his daughter for the first time after being in prison for her entire life. Forest, shared his heartfelt thanks to his team of student attorneys in a handwritten thank you letter. He said “Each time I spoke with you, I was always brought to quiet tears, moved by the comfort your realness inspired. The belief y'all shared ‘in me’ captured moments that cause me to choke away tears for it all was so new and different from the many who seem to see and treat me as if I’m a piece of trash.” Forest and the student attorneys are overjoyed.

It can be tough to adjust after decades in prison, so the student attorneys check in with him a few times a week just to see if he wants to discuss anything and if he needs any assistance connecting to community resources and public benefits.

Congratulations to Alexis Landrum JD ‘23, Aneta Golaszewski, JD ‘22, Victoria Colbert, JD ‘22, Laura Roman, JD ‘22, and Merrill Weber, JD ‘22.