Barry Scheck Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

DNA and the Criminal Justice System: Conversation with Barry Scheck, Professor of Law, Yeshiva University; and Co-Director of The Innocence Project, July 25, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 5 of 5

Taking Action

Your project has very effectively mobilized students, and as you're suggesting, researchers in the academic community. I'm curious about how the public can contribute to this process?

Money. We need money. We have to pay for these tests. We have to pay for running around ...

Would you like to give an address? is our website, and that really is a pretty good website. It gives you the information you need about our project, and where to reach us, and send -- was is it Warren [who] said "Send money, guns, and lawyers"? Let's forget the guns.

If people can't help in that way, are there other ways?


Because in a way, you're describing a legal movement that has to become a political movement.

Yes. There are Innocence Projects all across the country. In fact, here in California, there is one at the University of Santa Clara Law School. Our colleague, Cookie Rudolphi, runs that. At the University of California Western Law School in San Diego, Justin Brooks runs that project. And here in California there's a very good thing that Senator Burton did. About $800,000 was dedicated to split among Innocence Projects at law schools when they passed the post-conviction DNA bill in California that gave an opportunity for inmates who were wrongly convicted or sentenced to get a DNA test. Now, you have a budget crisis in this state, and they de-funded these projects, and so they need help.

What does society owe the people who are innocent, the people who are being exonerated? What can your project do for them, what can society do for them?

This is an extremely difficult problem. In most jurisdictions when these people get out of prison, they get less in terms of support and programs than people who were guilty and convicted and get out -- not that they get enough for a decent society, but our clients, many of them, they have no resources. There are very few states that have post-exoneration compensation bills, where regardless of fault you can get a certain amount of money for having been wrongfully convicted. These individuals and their families have a lot of trouble getting adequate social services. They come out, invariably, no matter how intact and intelligent and strong and indomitable these people are, and so many of them are just that way, they all have post-traumatic stress disorder, they all were living acts of violence that they saw within the prison. I never met one of them that could sleep. They're coming back after ten, twenty years of being out of society, their children are grown, if they had them, or their spouses in many instances have left. Everything is different. They're caught in this time warp when they reenter. It is so hard for them.

We've put together a group called Life after Exoneration, [led by] a wonderful doctor here at the University of California, Lola Vollen, as part of the Science and Technology Center here in Berkeley. We've had two sessions with about seventy of the exonerees and their families where we've carefully gone through their life histories, given them social science instruments to evaluate them as best we can and get them helping each other. Lola is trying to launch this program here on the Berkeley campus, and we're really hopeful that will take off, drawing upon groups of people that are used to dealing with victims of political torture, human rights community, because that's what our clients are in many ways. Similarly, you can understand their experiences that they didn't do the crimes, and they were in the worst penal institutions in our country, going through horrific experiences as an innocent person. It's much worse being in prison if you're innocent than if you're guilty, psychologically, it really is. Many of them were in for sex-related crimes, and it's very hard to be in an institution guilty of a sex-related crime. You do real hard time that way.

Barry, on that note, we want to thank you very much for being here today, and for talking with us about this very interesting evolution of your ideas and the story of how you found a space to try to change the world. Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you very, and thank you for joining us for this Conversation With History.

© Copyright 2003, Regents of the University of California

To the Conversations page

To the Innocence Project website

See also the interview with co-author Peter Neufeld: A Passion for Justice (April 2001)