Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $500,000)
There are currently 47,227 people incarcerated in Georgia’s prisons. 3,132 of them are women. If an estimated 4-6% of these inmates are innocent, that means at least 125 women are serving time in Georgia’s prisons for crimes for they did not commit.
Identifying and redressing wrongful conviction is difficult; proving the innocence of female prisoners is particularly difficult. Unlike cases taken on by traditional innocence organizations, their cases often do not involve DNA evidence. They do, however, involve misapplied forensic science, false confessions, incentivized witnesses, eyewitness misidentification, and official misconduct; making these cases particularly difficult to investigate and successfully resolve.
Since 2015, The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence (GCADV), Georgia’s statewide domestic violence coalition, developed the Justice for Incarcerated Survivors (JFIS) project after discovering that at least 77% of incarcerated women had a history of domestic violence. Working with volunteer attorneys and advocates, the JFIS team has secured the release of an average of more than 4 incarcerated survivors per year based on their domestic violence history. Recently, GCADV began working with CIU to investigate several innocence claims resulting from Fulton County convictions. As more of these cases are identified, the JFIS team lacks the capacity to assist those women in seeking post-conviction relief.
Fulton County District Attorney’s Office formed its CIU in August 2019 to identify individuals with viable innocence claims. Since its inception, CIU has received 460 requests for case reviews. Fulton county, with its county seat in Atlanta, has the highest number of criminal convictions in the state.
The unique aspect of this grant proposal is the focus on women in prison. This grant will allow GCADV to partner with CIU to ensure claims of Actual Innocence from survivors of domestic violence, particularly those from Fulton County, are adequately reviewed and litigated.
To better serve more survivors, GCADV will hire dedicated staff, including a staff attorney, who will train and supervise GCADV’s pro bono attorney team and to review and litigate claims originating in Fulton County in addition to claims from other regions across the state. Under this grant, CIU will hire an investigator and will continue to receive and screen cases directly from inmates and refer appropriate cases to GCADV’s staff attorney for evaluation and investigation. CIU will also continue to review all non-DNA actual innocence claims from Fulton County convictions.