Approximately 20,000 people are falsely convicted in the United States prison population. Since the late 1980s, there have been 850 exonerations nationwide, and now LSU law has the power to increase that number.
In partnership with the Innocence Project New Orleans, LSU law has received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Professor Robert Lancaster, assistant dean of experiential education, says the funding will allow IPNO to expand its capacity to review cases and conduct DNA testing while giving students practical experiences.
"Students enrolled in the clinical course will be able to work with attorneys at the innocence project on innocence project cases. These are cases where students will be investigating and exploring whether or not there are claims of factual innocence," said Lancaster.
Innocence Project New Orleans frees innocent people sentenced to life in prison and advocates for sensible criminal justice policies that reduce wrongful convictions. After release, the program supports its clients while adjusting to their new world. Executive Director, Jee Park, is the driving force behind the fight for justice.
"IPNO has been around since 2001, so we are entering our 20th year here. We work on cases all across the state of Louisiana and also in southern Mississippi. Since our founding in 2001, we have freed or exonerated 36 innocent individuals who have collectively spent over 873 years in prison for crimes they didn't commit," said Park.
One of IPNO’s clients is Malcolm Alexander, who served 38 years for a rape that hair DNA evidence proved he didn't commit. On Jan. 30, 2018, a judge vacated his conviction. Two hours later, he was greeted by his son, grandson and family with open arms.
"They believed in me, and when a person believes in you, it makes a world of difference. It's like a mother believing in her child. When most people go to jail or anything like that and become incarcerated, they have a tendency to pick up the bible. I come from somewhat a religious background, so it was like saying the truth will prevail, just never give up. That DNA made the difference," said Alexander.
The constant advancements of technology will only continue to free innocent men like Malcolm Alexander.