By Naledi Chuwe: The hit four-part miniseries When They See Us, based on a true story which took place in New York’s Central Park in 1989 has sparked debate about the flaws and inequality in the criminal justice system and restorative justice. The Central Park Five: Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise were exonerated with the assistance of The Innocence Project in 2002. This was after the real perpetrator confessed to the crime of rape and attempted murder of the jogger the five were jailed for.
The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck. A non-profit organisation, it helps exonerate wrongfully convicted people in the US. Assisted by the improvement of DNA testing techniques and/or the discovery of new evidence, it has achieved the exoneration of over 365 wrongfully convicted people. Their statistics reveal that between 2.3% and 5% of prisoners are innocent.
This organisation also works to reform the current criminal justice system to prevent more wrongful convictions in the future. Their work raises questions regarding police coercion and false confessions, alongside questions of vulnerability of juveniles during police interrogations. In addition they offer social counselling and support to rebuild lives after imprisonment.
Here in South Africa, the department of Journalism and a group of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand founded The Wits Justice Project (WJP). This is a non legal service that provides advice and support on inmates’ rights and investigates miscarriages of the criminal justice system.
The project uses investigative reporting in conjunction with their advocacy to obtain justice and inspect human rights abuses. It aims to ‘advocate for change, strengthen procedures and build on reform efforts’. A publicised story of Marcus Mulaudzi and Samuel Nndwambi were helped by The Wits Justice Project and continues to add names on their list as well as raising awareness.
The WJP says about their work: “Building on that advocacy we are developing strategic partnerships that will drive change and public knowledge. Issues such as mandatory sentencing and sentencing reform, addressing the causes of wrongful convictions, enhancement of inmate rehabilitation programmes, understanding of procedural rights and protection, warders understanding of the scope human rights and mechanisms to hold correctional centres to minimum standards rules are topics that open up the dialogue as to what other aspects affect the overburdened system.”
Conversations about the topic have been ignited and awareness has grown. The voice of the wrongfully imprisoned has been increased to a louder shout for help.
For more info go to:Wits Justice Project