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Streamlining Identification and Correction of Wrongful Convictions in Southeast Georgia

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $300,000)

Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) is the first and only innocence organization in Georgia. GIP has received 7,900 requests for assistance since 2002, and in the past 15 months secured five exonerations and helped free 5 men from prison who served a combined 150 years of wrongful imprisonment (26 on death row). In 2020, GIP was awarded a BJA grant to hire a Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney to leverage volunteer attorneys to work up GIP cases at the screening stage, and to partner with the Fulton County Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), Georgia’s then first and only of its kind.

In November 2020, a wave of new prosecutors was elected across Georgia, eager to implement substantive reform. One such election occurred in Chatham County, the fifth most populous county in Georgia and home to the east coast’s third largest port city, Savannah. Chatham County’s history of wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice, reflected by its disproportionate representation among the National Registry of Exonerations (20% of Georgia exonerations), creates a heightened risk of error in Chatham County cases. Two of Georgia’s three death row exonerations originated in Chatham County. 

The Chatham County District Attorney’s CIU is the second CIU in Georgia. District Attorney Shalena Jones has committed to reviewing new, incoming cases for potential wrongful conviction, and to investigating Chatham County’s history of wrongful convictions to understand why and how these happened and to use those lessons to meaningfully shape policy reform recommendations and as a tool to prioritize and review pending wrongful conviction cases. 

Through this project, GIP and the Chatham County CIU come together as lead applicant and sub-recipient to strategically review Chatham County’s disproportionate history of wrongful convictions, and to draw upon that analysis while leveraging data, systems, and tools to maximize effectiveness and efficiency in assessing pending post-conviction innocence claims. Given the significant risk of error in Chatham County cases in relation to other jurisdictions, GIP proposes to hire a Project Attorney to focus specifically on Chatham County cases, both within GIP and in support of the CIU, to maximize the number of people GIP can effectively help in the least amount of time. That likelihood is increased by providing financial support and internal capacity to the CIU. Accordingly, the grant will also enable the CIU to hire a Paralegal / Investigator to help review the historical cases, prioritize and support pending cases, and advance reform.

Date Created: November 10, 2021