Second Chances

Too many people are in prison for too long -- with virtually no way to get a second chance.

It's time our sentencing laws recognize people's capacity to change and their readiness to come home. We need as many methods as possible to give people an opportunity to be considered for a second chance, reunite families, and heal communities.

Jump to a Section

    Second Look Laws

    People change. Their sentences should, too.

    Second look laws allow decision-makers such as courts or parole boards to reevaluate a person's sentence after a sufficient period of time served in prison and determine if that sentence is still necessary.

    We support second look laws because people change over time, and imprisoning people long past the point of necessity makes no one safer.

    You can find a list of pending second chances legislation here.

    You can view existing second look laws here.

    Cecilia Cardenas With Sen. Booker

    Second Look Campaigns and Work

    District of Second Chances

    A quest for redemption is unfolding in Washington, D.C. Thanks to forward-looking “second chance” legislation, three men who were sentenced in their youth to life in prison have the chance to plead for release.

    The film captures their journeys as they unfold: Anthony “Pete” Petty, who has just won his freedom and must rebuild his life after three decades in prison; Gene Downing, who awaits his second chance hearing after two decades behind bars and hopes to reunite with a daughter born after his incarceration; and Colie Levar Long, who is mentoring youth incarcerated with him at D.C. Jail. He longs to finish college as a free man after a 26-year interruption.

    Compassionate Release

    Our prison population is aging rapidly. Incarcerated elders are the most expensive to keep in prison and the least likely to reoffend.

    Compassionate release allows people in prison to qualify for early release under certain criteria, most frequently because of illness or age.

    We believe people in prison should be released when they are too debilitated to commit further crimes, too compromised to benefit from rehabilitation, too impaired to be aware of punishment, or when there are extraordinary and compelling circumstances.

    You can learn more about compassionate release laws by state, as well as FAMM's report cards for each state, here.

    Elderly Man Prison

    Compassionate Release Campaigns and Work

    Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States

    “Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States,” is a comprehensive, state-by-state report on the early-release programs available to prisoners struggling with certain extraordinary circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. The report takes a deep dive into the regulations and requirements of these programs in each state, including the varying categories of release, eligibility criteria, and reporting. The analysis also reveals a troubling number of barriers faced by prisoners and their families when applying for early release.

    Grading the States: The State Compassionate Release Report Card Project

    With “Grading the States: the State Compassionate Release Report Card Project,” FAMM issues a report card for every state compassionate release program in the nation. FAMM graded the programs on elements we consider essential to ensuring that the programs benefit those who need them: medically vulnerable, aging, and terminally ill incarcerated people whose continued imprisonment no longer serves the interests of justice.

    Stories of Compassionate Release

    Vanessa Rojas Feature 760x760

    Vanessa Rojas

    “I thought I was going to die with a needle in my arm. And that didn’t happen. If I came from where I came from and changed, anybody can. It doesn’t matter how bad the situation seems. People can change. Everybody has potential.” – Vanessa Rojas

    From left to right: Adam, his son Christian, and his wife Roe Clemente

    The Case for Compassionate Release as a Second Look

    The compassionate release reform in the First Step Act is being used by some federal judges as a second look authority. The stories here of Jamal, Adam, Lisa, and Devon show why this mechanism makes sense and should be used more often.


    Clemency reflects the shared values of mercy and redemption. So why is it almost never used?

    Granted by a state governor or the president, commutation -- which is a form of clemency -- can reduce or terminate a person's sentence before their scheduled release date.

    Formerly incarcerated people are contributing to society in positive ways because they were given a second chance. State governors and the president should grant clemency to more people who have demonstrated readiness to come home.

    Want to know your state's laws on clemency? Find memos for every state in the U.S. here.

    Evans Ray Clemency

    Stories of Clemency

    Alexia Pitter And Anthony Jones

    Anthony Jones

    Anthony was granted clemency after being in prison 29 years. He now fights to make our criminal justice system more just and appears in court on behalf of people still locked up, telling his story to lawmakers and the media.

    Dennis Horton Photo 2

    Dennis Freedom Horton

    Dennis Freedom Horton, 52, spends his days doing work he seems born for – connecting with people and serving his community in Philadelphia. He facilitates the Wellness Recovery Action Plan program (WRAP), which helps people in prison and others improve their lives, and Shining Light, which provides reentry programming that “transforms the lives of participants and prison environments, resulting in lower recidivism, better neighbors, and stronger communities.” He advocates for men he left behind, including finding pro bono lawyers for them.

    Screenshot 2024 01 03 At 1.36.11 PM

    Jomari DeLeon: Pressured Into a Terrible Decision

    Jomari DeLeon made two drug sales over 24 hours, making less than $200. Kingpin? Hardly. Yet this first-time offender was sentenced to 15 years. Even the judge didn’t want to give her that much time. And making matters worse, the same crime today carries three years. A second chance for Jomari is humane, just, and common sense.