Organizations: Georgia Innocence Project
In 1987, Clarence Harrison was sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years, for rape.
He served 16 years of that sentence before the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) took on his case in 2003. The Decatur-based nonprofit eventually located two slides from the victim’s rape kit and used modern DNA testing to exonerate Harrison in 2004 – the organization’s first success story.
“We rely heavily on the scientific gains made in DNA evidence,” says Executive Director Clare Gilbert.
The GIP claims no political agenda or affiliations, just a mission to advocate for the unjustly incarcerated. Studies estimate that 3 percent to 5 percent of men and women in prison are innocent of their charges. Reasons for these wrongful convictions include government misconduct, witness misidentification, faulty forensic science and incentivized informants.
“We get our clients through correspondence that we receive from prisons,” Gilbert says. “We evaluate each request according to certain criteria.”
Two Georgia State University law students started GIP in 2002, modeled on New York’s organization. Since its inception, GIP has received 7,100 requests for assistance. Of these detainees, seven have been exonerated so far.
The organization has expanded its reach to Alabama, which lacks a similar program. “We start the investigation in Georgia and then delegate the cases to pro bono firms in Alabama,” Gilbert says.
The group, with a staff of five, is funded by donations and grants and assisted by 600 volunteers. Attorneys provide their time and expertise, and the organization oversees up to 15 law school interns each semester. As many as 150 law students from across the country have honed their skills at GIP.
“We are a voice for the imprisoned innocent,” Gilbert says.