Sidebar to the article Wrongful Convictions and DNA Exonerations: Understanding the Role of Forensic Science
In February 2016, NIJ and its partners in the Office of Justice Programs and external organizations hosted “Exonerees and Original Victims of Wrongful Conviction: Listening Sessions to Inform Programs and Research.” The listening sessions provided a forum for victims or survivors of crimes that resulted in wrongful convictions and for individuals who have been exonerated to share their experiences. The listening sessions were powerful and overwhelming, and the themes that emerged demonstrate the critical need for criminal justice systems to address the unique and largely unmet needs of original victims and exonerees of wrongful convictions.
In these sessions, original victims and survivors described the media’s insensitivity, the revictimization of the exoneration process, the lack of victim services compared to what they received during the original prosecution, and the need for peer support. Exonerees shared their challenges in transitioning to civilian life, problems with reconnecting with family and friends, difficulties in obtaining a job — or even basic necessities, such as a driver’s license or other identification — and the lack of restitution for their lost wages and social security benefits. Both the original victims and exonerees expressed frustration with criminal justice systems not being held accountable for wrongful convictions.
Overall, the listening sessions revealed that, currently, there is no systematic response to the needs of original victims and exonerees of wrongful convictions. The services offered to original crime victims are inadequate and do not address the revictimization often experienced during the exoneration process. For exonerees, there are really no services available, except for those provided to formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering society. Not only are these insufficient, but they are also inappropriate.
Although substantial attention has been devoted to determining the causes of wrongful convictions, there has been limited focus on what happens to victims and exonerees when exonerations occur. To address this gap in knowledge, NIJ has commissioned a special report and a mini-documentary on wrongful convictions. The special report describes in detail the themes from the listening sessions and policy recommendations derived from them. The mini-documentary gave some of the victim and exoneree participants a chance to share their stories with the public. NIJ will release the mini-documentary as a companion to the special report.
About This Article
This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 279, published April 2018, as a sidebar to the article Wrongful Convictions and DNA Exonerations: Understanding the Role of Forensic Science.