Criminal Justice Reform Commissions
Despite the number of DNA exonerations in the United States, very few investigative bodies – sometimes called “Innocence Commissions” – have been formed to investigate and understand the circumstances that lead to wrongful convictions.
The Innocence Project encourages states to create broad-based criminal justice reform commissions to study wrongful convictions and advocate for changes in the system.
Commissions in several states have already begun to recommend and help implement improvements in investigations, lab operations, defense, prosecution and judicial review necessary to help ensure the integrity of the criminal process.
Bringing Everyone to the Table
Effective commissions include experts from all parts of the criminal justice system — including crime victims and concerned members of the public. These varied perspectives, combined with public and official support, can lead to true, lasting reforms.
Successful Commissions Already at Work
Eleven states have formed criminal justice reform commission to examine causes of wrongful convictions and reforms to prevent injustice.
- The 30-member North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission was created by the state’s Chief Justice in 2002. The commission has focused on the causes of wrongful conviction and is considered a national model for effectiveness and reform.
- In Pennsylvania, where nine men have been proven innocent by DNA testing in recent years, the state Senate created an Innocence Commission in 2006.
- California, Connecticut and Wisconsin have also created commissions to study the causes of wrongful conviction, and in 2003, the Illinois legislature passed into law 85 recommendations made by a special commission created there to study capital punishment and create safeguards against all wrongful convictions.
Read case studies of the eleven states with criminal justice commissions.