After Innocence

Re-Entry Assistance and Advocacy for America's Wrongfully Convicted

After Innocence provides re-entry assistance and advocacy for America's wrongfully convicted

Mission

After Innocence provides effective, efficient re-entry assistance for America’s wrongfully convicted, and advocates for smart policy reform on their behalf. 

Program

Assisting exonerees across the country with coordinated social and legal services;

Documenting the experiences of exonerees to inform public debate and smart policy reform; and

Advocating for laws that provide exonerees fair compensation for the time they lost. 

Vision

We are working toward a not-too-distant future in which:

·      We acknowledge the real consequences of wrongful conviction, including on the lives of the wrongfully convicted and their families, and make reasonable, meaningful amends in that regard;

·      Every state provides a fair, transparent process by which a person who proves in court that he or she was actually innocent of the crime for which he or she was imprisoned will be eligible for meaningful compensation and re-entry assistance; and

·      Every exoneree in the United States will have access to a basic level of consistent, effective re-entry assistance to help them rebuild their lives after wrongful conviction.  

And through this work, we will demonstrate what a good society does when its justice system recognizes that it has put the wrong person in prison.

Organization

After Innocence was established in 2015 as a California not-for-profit corporation, and is a fiscally sponsored project of Social Good Fund, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization in Oakland, California. 

Donations to Social Good Fund for the benefit of After Innocence are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. 

Model

An efficient and effective platform to reach as many exonerees as possible with a basic level of reliable, high-quality assistance.  That means extremely low program costs, making extensive use of resources in the exonerees’ communities, including volunteers and lawyers who do pro bono work.  Our program activities are specific and concrete, and wherever possible, they produce measurable results.   

We gratefully accept donations and offers of in-kind support, and we are eager to collaborate to advance our mission.

Staff

      Jon Eldan, Founder and Director

415-307-3386

      jon@after-innocence.org

I am an attorney with more than a decade of experience working with exonerees after release.  Here’s how I got into this work.   

[Link to Expanded Text]

In 2005, I was working as a lawyer in a large law firm in San Francisco, dealing mostly with business disputes.  

I saw a documentary film called After Innocence.  It told the stories of seven people who used DNA evidence to prove they had been imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The film focused on the struggles these individuals face after release.  In doing that, the film presented us with a basic question:

What does a good society do after its justice system recognizes that it has put the wrong person in prison?

One exoneree in the film, Vince Moto, complained that he had been out of prison for eight years, but his wrongful conviction still showed up on his record.  As a result, he was having a hard time getting a job or a place to live.  Because Vince had been convicted in Pennsylvania, a state that has no law to compensate people for wrongful imprisonment, he was given nothing after serving eight years for a crime he did not commit.

I wondered how to help Vince, but I was licensed to practice law only in California.  So I did a bit of research, and found a few lawyers in Philadelphia that seemed qualified to handle his case.  I cold-called them, introduced myself, told them about Vince, and asked if they’d take the case for free.  One of them said “yes.” 

Now this did not solve all of Vince’s problems, but it seemed like an important part of getting his life moving. 

It was also an extremely efficient way to help exonerees: we have hundreds of exonerees spread thinly across the country.  Many of them, like Vince, have legal or bureaucratic problems that are barriers to rebuilding their lives.  And we have lawyers in those exonerees’ own communities who would be happy to do that work for free. 

What was missing was someone to identify the needs, find the qualified lawyers and persuade them to help pro bono, and make sure that both stay on track until the issue is resolved. 

So I did that over next few years, taking occasional referrals from innocence organizations across the country, and recruited lawyers in the exonerees own communities to help them pro bono.  I also worked to get better compensation laws passed in Washington and California.   

As the years went by, we saw the number of exonerations in the United States steadily increase.  The National Registry of Exonerations, maintained by the law school at the University of Michigan, now lists more than 1,600 exonerations nationwide since 1989.  On average, there are about 100 new exonerations each year.   

But our collective response to the real consequences of wrongful conviction remains dismal.  Only a handful of states provide what could be described as meaningful compensation, and the vast majority of exonerees receive little or no consistent support with rebuilding their lives.   

In 2014, I wondered if my work recruiting pro bono lawyers to help exonerees could be the platform for much broader impact.  Rather than write up a proposal based on what I thought would work, and ask funders to help me prove it, I decided to self-fund my own pilot program to test and refine my model, and then look for funders to support a project that is already producing measurable, effective results.  Here’s what I did:

I put out the word to several innocence projects, and before long heard from exonerees with back taxes and credit debt problems that arose during their wrongful imprisonment; exonerees with child custody determinations that had been based on a wrongful conviction; exonerees who were being improperly denied public benefits and the right to vote.  I found lawyers for all of them. 

In talking to the exonerees, I learned that many did not know anything about healthcare, and that many were in dire need of medical attention after the years they’d spent in prison.  That got me thinking about another efficient way to help:  What if each exoneree had a well-informed, tenacious advocate who could advise him or her about healthcare options and benefits, and where needed, provide start-to-finish enrollment help?

So I spent a couple months learning all I could about Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare, Veterans benefits and disability, and then set out to offer this help to as many exonerees as possible.  I got referrals from nearly every innocence organization in the country.

In all, I reached 204 exonerees, across 29 states - nearly 15% of the total identified exonerees population. 

The work had huge impact:  I found 1/3 of them were not getting what they and their families were eligible for, so I provided start-to-finish enrollment help – with a policy from the Obamacare exchange, or Medicaid, or Medicare – staying with them every step of the way, often waiting with them on hold, until they had coverage secured and a doctor’s appointment on the calendar.  For those already properly covered, I provided valuable information about how to use that coverage, and offered to help with any problems that come up down the line.  Along the way, another 32 exonerees told me about legal problems, and I found each one a pro bono lawyer.

This was also extremely efficient work: a relatively small amount of my time ensured that the exonerees received the best healthcare coverage possible and legal services from local volunteers, all done with hardly any program costs. 

Where to go from here? I have launched After Innocence as a fiscally sponsored non-profit in order to continue and expand this work. 

With relatively modest support, we can build After Innocence into a sustainable non-profit that can maintain services to existing clients; expand that offering to include additional, efficient ways to help; and quickly scale to bring that assistance to nearly all exonerees in the country.   

And in so doing, we will have gone a long way to having a better answer to the question that animates this project:

What does a good society do after its justice system recognizes that it has put the wrong person in prison?

Thank you for your interest and support,

Jon Eldan

Oakland, California

            Advisory Board

Professor Samuel Gross, Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School and Co-Founder of the National Registry of Exonerations

Supporters

The Focal Point LLC


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