IPL Blog Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences

I have started this blog as a way of sharing the experience of innocence project work. It will be updated at least once a month, either by me, a lawyer working with the project, or a student volunteering on the project. It will provide an insight into the work that is being done, and hopefully educate about how difficult it is to undo a wrongful conviction.

Louise Hewitt

Please note this blog represents the views of the IPL, not necessarily those of the University of Greenwich.

'Reflections on the Innocence Project London by an Intern

I am not quite sure what I expected interning at the Innocence Project London to be like, but three and a half months later, my heart is heavy to say goodbye. Coming into the IPL, I think I might have pictured stacks of wrongful conviction cases waiting to be investigated, and myself a detective going around interviewing witnesses and poring over evidence. There were stacks in the IPL work-room. But I was no detective, let alone law student. I was just beginning my third year of undergraduate studies in Public Policy, studying abroad in London with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. So began an academic journey with the IPL, packed with skills trainings and assignments ultimately invaluable to my personal growth and professional development.

The IPL was unique in designing an experience for me, albeit short-term, consistent, thorough, and balanced between learning experience and hands-on application. I read a lot of material in training and practice during my internship, but the causes and personhood of wrongful convictions never left a workday dull. The breadth of requests I responded to from prisoners, combined with consistent team effort on one case, transformed my own perception of the urgency, commonality, and gravity of wrongful convictions.

While I have gained innumerable academic and career skills from my time here, what I am most eager to share are stories. These were not just studied or analysed as part of my work. They became a catalyst for developing empathy for clients and fellow colleagues alike. Whether told by exonerees at the 3rd European Innocence Network Conference in Barcelona, or heard from case work discussions with incredibly gifted and persevering law students at Greenwich, these narratives will travel home with me.

Stories possess enduring impact, helping to sustain our efforts and hope; at the IPL, they did not merely expand my capacity to relate, but created a conviction: to raise awareness of an injustice from which no locale (including my own) is immune. As I make my way back the States, I look forward to carrying the torch of IPL's mission into my university, by helping to charter an undergraduate advocacy and awareness-raising network.

Perhaps no phrase rings more true to my state of mind these past few months than "I had no idea." I had no idea how difficult and long this work could be, how much more than freedom is lost in prison, and how much more I had and have yet to learn about criminal justice. So, no, I am no more a detective than when I arrived. I am simply a more confident, critical, and now law-aspiring American student, fully convinced of the needs for criminal justice reform and determined to address them through my studies and beyond.

Priya Sridhar, December 2018

Inspiring Students at the European Innocence Network Conference

So, last week I attended the third annual European Innocence Network Conference in beautiful Barcelona. Hosted by the Law School at the Universitat de Barcelona I was fortunate enough to be able to take 12 of the volunteer students caseworkers (thank you School of Law, University of Greenwich) from the Innocence Project London (IPL). Two of these students were presenting at the conference, on the impact of their work.

It was important that the students were given the opportunity to come. It is one thing working on the IPL with me and their supervising lawyer, but it is from an entirely different perspective to realise how much their work means, and to recognise that they are part of a truly global movement.

One of the most significant moments was when exonerees from America and The Netherlands spoke about their individual and shared experiences of being wrongfully convicted. These stories were incredible moving. Losing xx years of your life to prison, for a crime you did not commit stays with you for the rest of your life. Whilst you are in prison, life is being lived and lost on the outside. Even when you are exonerated the adjustment and reintegration with family and friends is the start of an equally hard journey. For the students to hear these accounts first hand, it personalised their work. They could start to understand the significance of their act of volunteering and comprehend the enormity of what they are part of.

For the exonerees, to see the student's commitment, honesty and passion it gave them hope. Yes, working on the IPL helps to develop numerous academic skills. Much more than that is how it enables students to develop empathy towards individuals that have been wrongfully convicted, alongside the opportunity to critically examine the criminal justice process.

Unpicking a case from the end provides a unique perspective as to how the process has worked, what could be improved and what could be changed.

Sitting listening to the exonerees speak, the students were visibly moved. Their work to tackle wrongful convictions may take place in the IPL project room at the University of Greenwich, but their contribution is to the global struggle to tackle wrongful convictions worldwide. By coming together to share experiences we can learn from each other and understand the reach of the network in Europe and beyond.

Every wrongful conviction damages the legal system in which is takes place. Every wrongful conviction damages society, especially the friends and family of the person convicted.  It is unrealistic to change entire legal systems in one go, but collectively we can create awareness of their flaws and look at how to improve them.

My students have seen this. They understand this now. This message will spread over time.

Louise Hewitt, November 2018