‘Project For The Innocent’: Loyola Law School on a mission to exonerate inmates

Isabell Rivera OW Contributor | 4/25/2019, midnight

Wrongful convictions are nothing new. But more African-Americans get arrested than Whites, for a crime they have not committed. This is the result of false statements by eye witnesses, as well as false confessions, and poor police work, and even coercion. It’s not just a racial issue, it’s an inequality issue. Often times, young Black men who got wrongfully arrested, come from low-income households, and are unable to pay bail or bond. Who’s at fault?

“In my experience, the officers have been willing to talk with us, but I think everyone believes that they’re doing the right thing when they’re doing their job,” Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent Post-Graduate Fellow, Ariana Price said. “There’s this phenomenon called ‘cognitive dissonance’ where even if you know you made a mistake, your brain just can’t comprehend it’s wrong because we believed it was right. So I think that everyone believes that they’re doing the right thing for the most part.”

Mistakes are human, but when many mistakes happen, society eventually questions the system. As the Chicago Tribune reported, “The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between two percent and 10 percent. That may sound low, but when applied to an estimated prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away?”

To shed light on some of those convictions that had been handled “sloppy,” legal aid non-profit organizations, such as “The Innocence Project,” as well as “The Loyola Project for the Innocent (LPI)” of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, were created to help convicts who are wrongfully incarcerated, prove their innocence.

Price “wears many hats” as she said, since it’s a relatively small operation.

“We are a group of certified attorneys and 18 students now, the group of students changes every year. Each of those students has two cases,” Price said. ”Some of those are in litigation, or about to be in litigation, and the others are just in an investigative stage.

“My role is therefore multifaceted. I do everything from administrative duties, assisting with managing students and overseeing the class component of our clinic, to managing cases, investigating claims of innocence, visiting our clients in prison, and writing motions and petitions.”

According to the non-profit organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of Whites. And it’s not just men, but also women. The incarceration rate of African-American women is twice as much than of White women.

“Historically, exonerees tend to be male, and an overwhelmingly amount, and minorities, in an overwhelmingly amount,” Price said. “We do have some female clients, and we’re trying to focus more on women clients, just because we know they’re under-represented in the exoneree population, and also we are working on a woman’s case right now, and having worked on Maria Mendez case, we see how women are affected differently.”

“The Loyola Project of the Innocent” has been around since 2011, and was founded by Professor Laurie Levenson, and former student, and now Program Director Adam Grant. So far LPI freed eight people in eight years, Price said.