Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $300,000)
Identifying, Remedying, and Preventing Wrongful Convictions in Arkansas
The Midwest Innocence Project’s (MIP) mission is to educate about, advocate for, and obtain and support the exoneration and release of wrongfully convicted people in the five-state region, including Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Through the proposed Identifying, Remedying, and Preventing Wrongful Convictions in Arkansas, MIP seeks $300,000 to begin a full review of potential wrongful convictions to establish the primary causes and most effective methodologies to prevent wrongful convictions in Arkansas. Funding for this program would allow MIP to hire a full-time attorney dedicated to Arkansas, as well as dedicate time from the MIP Executive/Legal Director, Intake Analyst, Paralegal, and Investigator to identify cases, gather and process relevant case documents for review.
Currently, MIP is the only innocence organization serving Arkansans whose innocence cannot be proven through DNA evidence. The need for an Arkansas specific attorney arises from a growing waitlist of innocent Arkansans seeking representation and has been clarified through litigation surrounding former MIP clients Laquanda Faye Jacobs and John Brown. Both clients served over 26 years for crimes they did not commit, despite repeated efforts to obtain lawyers and resources. Currently, there are more than 186 people in Arkansas waiting for assistance. The number of applications is expected to grow as more individuals in Arkansas learn of this review. This project seeks to provide funding necessary for MIP to review and investigate cases, reveal the causes of wrongful convictions in Arkansas, and provide the data and information necessary to create policies to prevent such wrongful convictions in the future.
There has been no concentrated effort to review and litigate post-conviction innocence claims in Arkansas. MIP currently has a waitlist of 177 applications from incarcerated Arkansans. Of the 177 processed applications, 11 are currently being further screened, and 5 are on a waitlist for investigation. MIP’s capacity to handle post-conviction reviews and litigation of claims of innocence is limited by its small staff and the addition of an attorney focused solely on Arkansas cases will greatly advance the awareness and education of wrongful convictions. Grant funding will allow MIP to address the increasing number of innocence claims in Arkansas while identifying major causes of wrongful convictions, and design and implement policies and trainings to prevent wrongful convictions in the future.