Criminal Justice Reform

Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families

Women, particularly low-income women and women of color, bear the brunt of the emotional and financial burden when family members are incarcerated, states a September report led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design. The report, which profiled more than 300 family members impacted by incarceration, found that families of individuals in the criminal justice system were saddled with debt from legal fees and lost income, and assumed significant emotional burdens from damages to their familial relationships, social stigma and isolation, and disrupted support systems. The majority of family members on the outside shouldering these financial and emotional costs were women, with low-income women of color suffering an especially disproportionate impact. Transgender women of color with a loved one in prison had a particular set of emotional impacts, because they were more likely to be criminalized themselves, and were therefore generally barred from visiting prisons.

The report outlines recommendations to help stabilize and support these vulnerable families. These recommendations include: restructure criminalization policies to reduce the number of people serving sentences and the length of sentences served, remove barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to access resources like housing and employment, and increase investment and support (job training, education, employment services, etc.) for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families and communities. To read more on the coalition’s findings and recommendations, see the full report.



Innocence Project Helps Free Wrongfully Convicted Man

Michael Morton finally regains his freedom, after spending nearly 25 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit -- and the Innocence Project, one of our grantees, led the charge for his release. Morton was convicted of beating his wife to death in 1986, and sentenced to life in prison.  But DNA tests now show he didn't commit the crime, and that in fact, a convicted felon was responsible for the murder.  The Innocence Project helps exonerate inmates, using DNA testing that often wasn't available when they were tried.

Morton's story raises more concerns about the district attorney in his case, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.  John Bradley wasn't the original DA who tried Morton -- but he's now accused of suppressing evidence that could have led to an earlier release.  And that's not all.  Bradley has come under scrutiny for his tenure as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.  During that time, the commission investigated the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for the arson deaths of his three children.  Bradley refuted many of the findings that would have cleared Willingham of any wrongdoing, calling him a "guilty monster."  Bradley no longer heads the commission.  The Innocence Project originally filed the complaint about the case, which has drawn national attention.

The Overbrook Foundation applauds the Innoncence Project for its latest victory, leading to the release of a wrongfully convicted man, and for its ongoing commitment to criminal justice reform.

To read the full article in the Washington Post, click here.

Innocence Project Sets the Standard for Conducting Eyewittnes Lineups

A highly-anticipated report released today (and reported on in The New York Times) shows that the Innocence Project’s recommended procedures for conducting eyewitness lineups are more accurate than other methods. The report has significant implications for reducing wrongful convictions within the United States criminal justice system. Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of the 273 convictions overturned through DNA testing.

The report describes field studies conducted by the American Judicature Society, in collaboration with the Police Foundation, the Innocence Project, and the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. The police departments of Austin (TX), Tucson (AZ), San Diego (CA), and Charlotte-Mecklenburg (NC) all participated in the research, which began in 2008. The officers collected detailed information on lineup procedures and outcomes to determine the most accurate methods.

Analysis of the data showed that double-blind sequential lineups — where the administering officer doesn’t know which person is the suspect, and the witness views one person or photograph at a time — produce fewer mistaken identifications than lineups that present all of the suspects simultaneously. The study also found that sequential lineups resulted in the same number of correct suspect identifications as simultaneous lineups.

New Jersey Leads the Way on Witness ID Reform

New Jersey's Supreme Court has ordered reforms in the use of witness identification as testimony in criminal prosecutions which will very likely have implications for reform across the states and federal judicial systems. Congratulations to The Innocence Project for laying the groundwork that has led to this very important court ordered reform

Another Victory for The Innocence Project

There's another victory for the folks over at The Innocence Project! Last week in a Dallas courtroom, a judge declared The Innocence Project's client Cornelius Dupree innocent after more than three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.

DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project proved that Mr. Dupree had been misidentified and wrongfully convicted of a 1979 rape and robbery in Dallas. Mr. Dupree was 19 years old at the time and sentenced to 75 years in prison. Throughout the trial and since, Mr. Dupree has maintained his innocence and, after serving 30 years, he was released on parole last July while DNA tests were pending. Mr. Dupree served more time in prison than any other person in Texas who was later cleared through DNA testing.

Cornelius Dupree’s case serves as another reminder of the urgency of reforming eyewitness identification procedures. In the U.S. a staggering three-quarters of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence resulted from misidentifications. Of the 40 people exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, 34 were misidentified by at least one witness.

A bill to reform eyewitness identification procedures in Texas was introduced last year and would require all law enforcement officials to adopt written policies for identification procedures, including lineups and photo arrays such as the one used in this case. Authored by State Senator and IP Board Chair Rodney Ellis and State Representative Pete Gallego, it is our hope that this important bill will be adopted in the next legislative session. Please visit their website to learn more about Cornelius Dupree's case and the proposed reforms in Texas.

The Innocence Project staff in New York City spoke with Cornelius Dupree by phone shortly after the court hearing. He expressed his deep appreciation for the organization's hard work. “Without you,” he said, “I wouldn’t be free.”

The Foundation would like to extend its congratulations to The Innocence Project. Each post-conviction DNA exoneration creates a learning moment able to bring about meaningful and lasting reform. Moreover, significant media coverage of the exonerations like this galvanizes public support for policy reform. Overbrook is proud to have supported The Innocence Project for a decade. Its been an honor to watch the organization to protect the public against wrongful prosecution and convictions.