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April 02, 2020 COVID-19 WEBINAR SERIES

COVID-19 and the Compassionate Release of the Elderly, Infirm or High Risk

As concerns increase about the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons, special attention should be given to those most vulnerable to severe cases, particularly the elderly and infirm.  While almost every state has judicial or administrative mechanisms for releasing such prisoners early, release under these programs is rarely achieved.  With the new threat of COVID-19, the release of prisoners at serious health risk is getting a closer look. Our panelists discuss litigation, legislative and administrative efforts to secure compassionate release in response to COVID-19.

With heightened concerns nationwide about data confidentiality and diminished trust in the federal government, lawyers in all practice areas may find themselves being asked about the Census 2020, which begins nationwide in March, by their clients.
With heightened concerns nationwide about data confidentiality and diminished trust in the federal government, lawyers in all practice areas may find themselves being asked about the Census 2020, which begins nationwide in March, by their clients.

Welcome and Introduction

  • Judy Perry Martinez, President, American Bar Association; Of Counsel, Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn


  • Margaret Egan, Executive Director, New York Board of Corrections
  • Merf Ehman, Executive Legal Director, Columbia Legal Services
  • Mary Price, General Counsel, FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums)


  • Miriam Gohara, Clinical Associate Professor, Yale Law School; Special Advisor, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants

Special thanks to Michael W. Bien, Partner, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP

Joint Sponsors: Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants, Criminal Justice Section

Co-Sponsors: ABA Center for Public Interest Law, ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities, ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the ProfessionABA Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division, ABA Section of LitigationABA Section of State and Local Government Law, ABA Senior Lawyers DivisionABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service


  • Summary of Compassionate Release Webinar
  • New York City Board of Corrections COVID-19 Response
    • Board of Corrections webpage containing letters, releases, statements, and other documents regarding the DOC and CHS' COVID-19 response in New York City jails and prisons. This page also contains daily updates on the number of confirmed COVID-19 persons in NYC jails and prisons.
  • Letter of March 13 calling for release of high risk prisoners, including people over the age of 55 and people with serious chronic health conditions
    • A letter from the Board of Corrections stating their view that inmates and prison staff at a high risk of becoming sick from COVID-19 should be released from incarceration. The BOC also requests that DOC and CHS immediately publish detailed security and health plans for minimizing the risk of COVID-19 exposure in jails.
  • California Motion Requesting Modification of State Prison Population Cap and supporting materials
    • This page contains information and materials related to an emergency motion filed in California requesting the release or relocation of high-risk inmates in danger of severe illness or death from COVID-19. Key elements of this link include Plaintiffs' original motion, Defendants' response, and affidavits from doctors, prison administrators, and imates in support of the release.
  • Declaration of Marc Stern, M.D. (expert in prison healthcare)
    • A link to the affidavit of an expert in correctional health care, declaring that incarcerated persons are at an extraordinary risk of dying from the COVID-19 virus. The medical expert calls for the immediate downsizing of California prison populations.
  • Washington State Petition for Release
    • This page contains information and filings regarding an expedited lawsuit filed directly in Washington Supreme Court. The lawsuit seeks the release of prison groups most vulnerable to serious illness and death due to COVID-19. The bottom of this web page contains links to court filings and documents.
    • Petition for Writ of Mandamus in Supreme Court of Washington
      • This is a link to the petition filed in the State of Washington. The petition requests commutation of the sentences of (i) incarcerated persons over the age of 50; (ii) incarcerated persons with serious medical conditions that put them at risk of serious harm or death from COVID-19; and (iii) incarcerated persons with early release dates within the next 18 months, or those currently on work release.
  • Proposed COVID-19 Correctional Facility Emergency Response Act of 2020
    • Link to proposed bill calling for the release of : (1) individuals who do not pose a risk of serious and imminent injury to any person; (2) individuals 50 years and older; (3) individuals with serious chronic medical conditions; (4) pregnant women; (5) immunocompromised individuals; and (6) individuals with conditions or disabilities otherwise making them vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • Press Release
    • A link to a press release from Representative Karen Bass announcing introduction of proposed COVID-19 legislatoin which summarizes the contents of the bill.
  • FAMM Compassionate Release Clearing House
    • This webpage contains essential information about Compassionate Release and the Compassionate Release Clearing House. Prisoners interested in acquiring representation from the Clearing House in relation to their Compassionate Release cases can obtain information on how to do so here.
    • The Hill: COVID-19 gives us an urgent argument for compassionate release
      • This is a link to an editorial from the president of FAMM in which he advocates for increased compassionate release in light of COVID-19. The bottom of this web page contains links to court filings and documents. 
  • CDC Interim Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities
    • The CDC's most up-to-date guidance for administrators of prisons, jails, detention centers, as well as guidance for other agencies with custodial authority over detained populations. 

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