The Illinois Innocence Project Raises Awareness About Wrongful Conviction in the U.S.

By Rachel Leber

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) in Springfield used International Wrongful Conviction Day on Oct. 2 as an opportunity to raise awareness around and honor the number of wrongful conviction cases in the U.S. The event took place on the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) campus with 2,096 flags raised to represent each person wrongfully convicted.

International Wrongful Conviction Day was created in 2014 to raise awareness of the causes and remedies of wrongful conviction and to recognize personal, social and emotional costs of wrongful conviction for innocent people and their families, according to the International Wrongful Conviction Day website.

The special day began as a result of the efforts of the Innocence Network — an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals wrongfully convicted. IIP is one of many members of the Innocence network, and is based on the UIS campus.

IIP is guided by three overall objectives for its mission to bring justice to the wrongfully convicted: to evaluate and investigate cases for credible claims of an Illinois inmate’s actual innocence and provide legal representation and other assistance; encouraging meaningful reform toward the prevention of wrongful conviction of innocent persons in the future; and to provide important educational and experiential opportunities to the public and for students about wrongful convictions in the U.S.

IIP has so far helped to exonerate 10 people — all with help from undergraduate interns at UIS — and is one of only two campuses in the U.S. that uses undergraduate students to help in exoneration cases. “It felt like I would be making the most difference here. I could get experience in other internships and might even get paid, but here you can feel like you are actually doing something,” said Jaclyn Fabing, an intern at IIP.

“They are the ones who tackle all of that and send out response letters and forms, and all the other things that we do,” said John Hanlon, executive and legal director of IIP in a recent interview with WandTV. “Without students, we are not here. The experience that they are getting in real legal cases is irreplaceable.”