Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $300,000)
Established in 2019 as a state-wide non-profit, the Tennessee Innocence Project (TIP) seeks to free the wrongfully convicted. Our mission is to represent indigent incarcerated people convicted of felonies in Tennessee, whose claims of innocence have gone unheard. We believe there is no greater punishment than that imposed on the innocent, therefore we are partnering with the Davidson County Office of the District Attorney and its Conviction Review Unit (CRU), created in 2017, and focusing on collaborative justice in Davidson County. This collaborative process will focus on truth seeking and use research-based, data-driven strategies for joint reinvestigations. Together, TIP and the Davidson County CRU will ensure no one suffers from a wrongful conviction in Davidson County while increasing awareness for how people can apply to have their cases reviewed.
Since 1989, there have been more than 2,700 exonerations of wrongfully convicted people in the U.S. Despite ranking 18th in the U.S. for prison population by state, Tennessee has completed only 24 exonerations, a fraction compared to other states with well-established innocence representation and CRUs. Wrongful convictions lead to a distrust of the criminal justice system overall, erode the ability of the system to protect communities, and let real perpetrators evade justice.
A partnership between TIP and the Davidson County CRU will serve as a model of collaborative justice in Tennessee. Through the success of this project, TIP hopes other District Attorney Offices will be interested in collaborating with our organization. Partnership models like this between CRUs and Innocence Network organizations currently exist in other states. To date, CRUs have helped initiate the exoneration of 444 people across the U.S. The Davidson County CRU is the only CRU in the state and has seen a marked increase in their applications since granting its first exoneration in 2020.
A collaborative justice project led by TIP will ensure that staffing levels are adequate and appropriate to further impact the fate of wrongly convicted Tennesseans and represent defendants’ rights.