The United States not only has the highest incarceration rate in the world, but also convicts innocent people at an alarming rate, estimated to be as high as 10 percent. Innocence organizations attempt to address this, working to free those wrongfully convicted. By providing post-conviction representation to the innocent to help exonerate them, these organizations strive to restore justice when the criminal legal system malfunctions.
Prison abolitionists—those who call for an end to incarceration and imagine a world without prisons—take a different approach. Unlike innocence organizations, which focus primarily on freeing the wrongfully convicted, prison abolitionists hold that nobody should go to prison, regardless of their innocence, because prisons as institutions are inherently flawed. For them, the criminal justice system is not “broken” but rather working to cage Black and brown communities. Abolitionists see wrongful conviction as a prime example of this, viewing it as the expected result of a system defined by structural racism.
This project investigates to what extent the innocence movement and the prison abolition movement are compatible. It features the story of Tricia Rojo Bushnell, the president of the Innocence Network and the executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, who both identifies as a prison abolitionist and leads the innocence movement. Through interviews with abolitionists and innocence attorneys across the country, this project seeks to illuminate the tensions between the two movements and investigate the ways in which innocence attorneys reconcile them.