News 01.13.23

Innocence Project Hosts Its First-Ever Virtual Social Science Research Conference

The day's programming included talks by scholars, researchers, and system-impacted people.

By Vanessa Meterko

(Image: Science in HD/Unsplash)

Nearly 900 people tuned into the Innocence Project’s first ever international gathering dedicated to social science research on wrongful convictions. Hosted by our data science and research team, the virtual event, entitled Just Data: Advancing the Innocence Movement, was an exciting day of programming that brought together a diverse audience, fostered cross-disciplinary collaboration, and inspired practically applicable research.

Executive Director Christina Swarns kicked off the day with a welcome address, highlighting the pivotal roles that social science and data analysis have played in some of the most important cases in our nation’s history from the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and more recently, the review of the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy and practice, which was ultimately declared unconstitutional.

The program then began with presentations from four scholars who investigated topics ranging from the fallibility of digital evidence to courtroom cross-examination to post-traumatic growth among exonerees, and more. Articles unpacking these studies will appear in a forthcoming companion issue of The Wrongful Conviction Law Review

A major highlight of the day was a keynote conversation featuring Ginny LeFever — a retired nurse, PTSD researcher, and exoneree — who shared her unique and powerful perspective on the experience of wrongful conviction and the role of research in the innocence movement. She offered insights from her own life and those gleaned from hundreds of others she interviewed for her research, and invited the audience to “walk a mile in my flip flops” and reminded us all that “putting somebody back together [after wrongful conviction], it takes a village.”

Explore our impact by the numbers

The program concluded with a discussion between Innocence Project colleagues about what research endeavors would most impact their daily work and what questions they would love for social scientists to investigate — a call to action for scholars planning their next projects, students looking for thesis or dissertation ideas, and those who want their work to be practically applicable to the innocence movement. Experts on related topics in the audience were also invited to reach out directly — and we have been thrilled by the responses we’ve received since the event. 

Learning that there is such a large and eager community of social scientists out there was extraordinary. With the new year underway, we are resolved to keep finding innovative ways to use the power of data to advance justice. And we look forward to continuing to nurture research partnerships and work to make criminal legal research inclusive, accessible, nuanced, and actionable.

If you would like to connect with the Innocence Project’s data science and research team and continue the conversation with like-minded academic researchers, email [email protected] And if you’re interested in learning more, check out our additional research resources here.

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