This month’s blog is from Jessica Hynes, who is currently studying Criminology and Criminal Psychology on the Masters programme at the University of Greenwich. The Innocence Project London (IPL) was the reason she chose Greenwich and such was her enthusiasm for this work, she made contact in the summer and asked whether she could start early.
After graduating from my undergraduate degree in media and communications, I had time to reflect on where this would take me and where my career was heading. I started to research the jobs that have always been at the centre of these interests such as criminal investigation, criminal law, wrongful convictions, false confessions, and social policy. I am motivated to be a part of an organisation that is paving the way for change in society and organisations that are focusing on helping individuals and communities in need of help.
Jess pictured bottom left taking part in the IPL film club
I was also lucky to have some work experience in the Murder Investigations Team within the police to get an insight into the different aspects of criminal investigation which I think will be helpful within the IPL. My inspiration for pursuing the opportunity to volunteer with the IPL was through listening to individual’s stories in documentaries and on podcasts. I believe these platforms are so important in spreading awareness of an exoneree’s journey and how miscarriages of justice occur. It was also inspiring to watch these same people go on to make a difference within the criminal justice system and helping other individuals with their fight for freedom. Watching and listening to the stories of Kalif Browder, Ron Williamson, and Dennis Fritz and many others opened up my eyes to the wrongdoings in criminal investigations and how complicated the fight for exoneration is but how necessary it is to show the steps in which people have to fight for their innocence. It sheds light on how important DNA evidence and ethical investigations are in the legal battle for freedom.
My first awareness of the Innocence Project was through these documentaries as I watched how the lawyers fought so hard for the individuals. I found myself researching similar organisations in the U.K as I was not initially aware of the IPL, and I was so excited to see that it was in London and connected to the University of Greenwich. Although my undergraduate degree was in a different field, I was so grateful that I was offered a place on the MSc Criminology and Criminal Psychology programme. I would like to also mention Louise who has been so helpful and approachable before even starting the course officially. I have already learnt a lot from her and I cannot wait to start working with the team and sharing our different perspectives on our case. I feel as if this environment is going to have such a positive effect on my personal and my professional growth. The opportunity to work with lawyers, together with law and criminology volunteers, will give me an amazing experience to learn and have in-sights from many different individuals with a wide variety of knowledge, experience, skill sets and background.
“I asked some of our new students volunteers who will be starting work in September 2020, to write blog posts about what they were looking forward to and what they most daunted about in working on the Innocence Project London. This is the next generation that , through the work of the IPL will gain awareness of the issues in our criminal justice system and will work hard to change it. Their candour and enthusiasm is simply brilliant.”
Dr Louise Hewitt, Director Innocence Project London
“I think that the Innocence Project London represents a great opportunity for students to grow both professionally and personally. It can also be a great opportunity to get that hands-on experience that will change one’s perspective of the world forever.
My peers have all praised the work because it has challenged them to do further research into legislation, forensics, and so many more areas that are not covered by their curriculum. Also, because of the balancing of workloads, most of them have become more organised, and most importantly, more capable of undertaking a task and delivering it on time. I can only aspire to become as responsible and dedicated as they have, but hopefully, my volunteering on the IPL will help me get a little bit closer to that level of competence.
I decided to apply to work on the IPL after one of my closest friends, who has worked on it for the past year, convinced me to do it. It is not only the work experience that comes as a result of one’s involvement with the project but also the rewarding feeling of helping someone to prove their innocence, or at least that is what stuck in my mind from my short investigation into the work that the volunteers do.
I am keen to start work on the project because I have heard about the impact it has had on my peers. The only negative aspects that I can think of is that I may feel anxious about some aspects of the work. Whilst I may classify these as negative feeling, it depends on the perspective, doesn’t it? One can learn a lot from being anxious. Anxiety can help me be diligent, and when working to serve people’s interests or when working with sensitive data, this can be helpful.
I am going to end on the following thought, it is crucial not to judge a book by its cover, but we all end up doing this to a certain extent because of our own biases. By getting involved and raising awareness we can make changes for the better. This is exactly the reason why I joined the IPL and why I look forward to starting my work.”
“The Innocence Project London is an incredible organisation which helps people who have been wrongfully convicted who maintain their innocence. The organisation is one of many across the world, including America, Amsterdam and Puerto Rico. Their work can be seen on the TV such as the Innocence Files on Netflix and the Brian Banks film.
I am so happy and excited to be working with this organisation. In my life I would like to make a difference to as many people as I can and this organisation makes a difference. I am excited to see how the process works in terms of identifying new evidence, as well as working in a group who care just as much about the case as I do. I am daunted by one factor. You want to do the best possible thing for the client however, an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) will not always be the positive outcome. I want the client to know more than 100% effort will be made.
I am so pleased and excited that words can’t describe how much I appreciate this opportunity. I knew as soon as I joined the University it is something I would love to do.”
“I am a second year Criminology student at the University of Greenwich, soon to start work for the Innocence Project London (IPL). I initially discovered the amazing work of the IPL whilst on the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Programme module where Louise came in and ran a critical thinking exercise using a case that she was working on. We read through some of the broken down details of the case and deciphered whether or not we believed that the individual who is currently incarcerated is innocent or guilty as his conviction states. Whilst reading through the case I was completely taken aback by the detail and how someone could be convicted of something so serious with little or no reliable evidence. The client was convicted purely on eyewitness evidence.
When speaking to some of the Inside students I learnt about their stories. I tried to educate myself from the inside out, instead of focusing and relying on statistics and facts that are somewhat distant to the sobering reality of speaking face to face with those who have been through the system themselves. I was so shocked and devastated to hear how some of them had been treated and mostly because of the colour of their skin. One of the inside students expressed to me how during her trial she had one black juror, throughout her trail she was portrayed to be a part of a gang because of the area she lived in, one of the friends she ‘hung around with’ and arguably, because of the colour of her skin. This was so sobering for me and a pivotal point in helping me decided what I want to do in my career.
After this experience I was intrigued by what the IPL does, what it can offer and how I could be involved with such an incredible organisation. I researched, watched documentaries and furthered my knowledge about wrongful convictions. I spoke to my lecturers who are always so keen to help us educate ourselves; I am aware this is their job, but my lecturers are so supportive, inspiring and genuinely want each and every one of us to succeed with our careers in law and criminology. I have never received so much support, they allow me to constantly push myself and for the first time in my life, I feel someone believes in me and what I can offer.
I saw an email pop up about applying for the IPL just days after my interest piqued, so I threw myself at the opportunity. When I found out that I was successful I was over the moon and I am so excited to begin my new journey with the IPL. I am most looking forward to challenging myself in a new area of the criminal justice system, to be able to make a difference and to work in a team of people who all have the same views and are as passionate as me about wrongful convictions and injustices in our criminal system. So far, studying Criminology I have found that most people are uneducated about the injustices and how poorly some individuals are treated during their time in the criminal justice system.
For me, the hardest thing will be reading through cases and accepting that people can be convicted under so little evidence and knowing the way that these individuals have been treated will trouble me. I will, however, use this as fuel to fight and educate people as I do now. Knowing that I have such an amazing journey ahead of me working for the IPL, meeting more people who are as passionate as me and that I can relate to is so exciting. I cannot wait to gain new skills and to see what I can offer to such an amazing organisation.”
Rebecca Leigh Barclay
“Working on the IPL will be a great opportunity for personal development in terms of enabling students to critically analyse and break down our legal knowledge and apply it to real cases. It will also challenge us to reflect on our perceptions of the criminal justice system. Listening to the experience of students who worked on the project last year, I found the concept interesting, that you are essentially proving the opposite of decided case. The students whilst reading through the cases, were having to challenge their own perception of what an innocent person looks like. So, I am looking forward to being a part of the IPL to develop my skills of analysis, in addition to challenging my perception of the criminal justice system. I am also looking forward to having an impact on an individual’s life, and being able, along with the other students on the project, to bring hope to those who continue to maintain their innocence.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work on the IPL particularly given the current social climate concerning the Black Lives Matter movement. The topic of wrongful convictions has never been so important. The work of many, if not all innocence organisations is to examine the reach of systematic racism. Therefore, working on the project is vital to maintaining the public’s awareness of the injustices that individuals face in society, particularly that of BAME individuals. I am looking forward to being able to expand my knowledge whilst raising awareness of what ‘innocence’ is and why it is such a complex issue compared to how it is publicly perceived.
I am most daunted by the unexpected. This sounds cliché, but when initially researching the work of the global Innocence Network it came to my attention that media platforms have focused our attention on the USA. For example, the workings of America’s criminal justice system, the stories of America’s wrongfully convicted, the victims of injustice in America. I’ve watched the Innocent Files, Brian Banks, When They See Us, and as extraordinary and gut wrenching as these accounts are I couldn’t recall a story of a UK based ‘exoneree’, or an overturned conviction that was publicised by the UK media. Therefore, unexpected in this context is the prospect of learning why overturning convictions in the UK is so hard. Before applying to the IPL, I was unaware that in the UK you cannot be exonerated, or declared innocent after exhausting the appeals process, instead your conviction is deemed unsafe. I am both daunted to learn and see the effect of the flaws that occur in our criminal justice system. A system that as a society we rely on protecting us, because a person’s conviction is essentially reliant on a flawless process between the many layers of that system. Most importantly I also thrilled to work to towards the goal of liberating an individual that has faced being wrongfully convicted and telling the truths and highlighting the issues in their case.
I look forward to what awaits in the next year working on the IPL.”
“The Innocence Project London (IPL) was one of the key factors as to why I chose the University of Greenwich as my place of study. The thought that you can make such a difference through volunteering is inspiring, and it makes me very proud to say I can be a part of it. I am excited to start in September.
My ambition to join the project started at an open day at the University in which I was told all about the IPL. My fascination took hold and I quizzed a law professor about it for some time. The realisation hit me that I was going to do everything in my power to pursue the opportunity to join the Innocence Project London.
The ‘Innocence Files’ on Netflix and the Innocence Project London podcast were two great resources to learn and immerse myself into the world of wrongful convictions, and how the Innocence Project London as well as the other organisations in the Innocence Network are combating these issues. Their mission in educating the next generation of lawyers and raising awareness of the weaknesses of legal systems in general, was truly motivating to me as prospective student . Now, just over a year later, I can say I’m a part of such an amazing organisation.
I was truly inspired by Louise’s speech at the annual Miscarriages of Justice symposium as it really gave a sense of how important projects like this are to society. Due to it being a part of a global network, it provides access to justice for individuals who have been failed by the legal system.
One case that stuck with me when researching the IPL was that of Anthony Harrison who is convicted of Human Trafficking and False Imprisonment. He is still in prison serving a 20 – year sentence maintaining his innocence. It is daunting to think of the pressure and intensity of the work that I could be doing, but it is also an exciting prospect, as my dream is to work as a lawyer and to gain this experiences is invaluable. Additionally, being kept busy with the Innocence Project London and my regular legal studies will be a relief coming out of this lockdown as I have missed having a workload and deadlines to commit to. This blog post itself was a slight return to normality!
Not only is the Innocence Project valuable work, but it is rewarding too as you are able to put into practice what I learn in the classroom. I am passionate about giving the next generation of lawyers a chance to have a real impact and potentially change a person’s life. It is reasons such as these that I am delighted to volunteer on a fulfilling, challenging and vital organisation like the Innocence Project London. I cannot wait to return to University to start working on the Project.”