Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $599,996)
The New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University (NJIP) is the first innocence organization devoted specifically to the exoneration, release from incarceration, and restoration to society of wrongfully convicted people in New Jersey. Founded in 2018 as a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort among Rutgers University faculty, NJIP is now housed within Rutgers University Law School in Camden as a subsidiary of the Criminal Youth and Justice Clinic (CYJC), which has represented hundreds of clients in post-conviction relief matters. NJIP seeks this funding to expand its capacity to provide high-quality representation to more people seeking exoneration and release.
In the fall of 2022, NJIP hired a managing attorney, who has since developed and implemented an effective, multi-stage process to screen and accept cases. Currently, the managing attorney, under the supervision of the CYJC director and with the assistance of clinical law students and volunteer attorneys, provides high quality case screening, investigation, and representation to NJIP clients. Despite a lack of publicity, outreach, or even a website, NJIP already has received nearly 150 applications, with new applications arriving every day. Based on the reviews conducted to date, dozens of these cases present evidence of innocence, but with only one full-time staff person, NJIP can serve only a very limited number of people with viable claims for relief.
As a strategy to address the urgent and unmet need for post-conviction representation for innocent individuals, NJIP proposes to expand its current legal capacity by hiring two additional staff members: a staff attorney and paralegal/investigator. NJIP’s current leadership has the necessary expertise and experience to seamlessly integrate and supervise these additional staff members, ensuring that the project will achieve its core goals. Funding for the project also will allow NJIP to gather and analyze data to (1) measure success of the project; and (2) identify the causes of and promote policy reforms to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions in New Jersey. By expanding advocacy for innocent New Jerseyans, NJIP will work to improve the overall administration of justice in the state.