‘There’s No Other Place Like It On The Planet’: The Innocence Network Conference Shines Through New Orleans

Over 1,200 people, including 400 freed and exonerated people, their families, and teams, were united at the 2024 Innocence Network Conference in New Orleans.

Events 03.26.24 By Innocence Project

Innocence Network Conference leaders including Rodney Roberts, Termaine Hicks, Anna Vasquez, Robert Jones, and Jerome Morgan at the Freedom Parade in New Orleans. (Image: Alicia Maule/Innocence Project)

Innocence Network Conference leaders including Rodney Roberts, Termaine Hicks, Anna Vasquez, Robert Jones, and Jerome Morgan at the Freedom Parade in New Orleans. (Image: Alicia Maule/Innocence Project)

For more than two decades, the Innocence Network Conference has been an annual gathering point for people directly affected by wrongful convictions from around the world, alongside advocates and allies committed to justice, healing, and re-entry support. 

“The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Power in Community,’ and our programming focused on how community is built, shared and experienced in the innocence movement,” said Meredith Kennedy, director of the Innocence Network Support. “It was particularly important for us to focus on the power in our movement as we met in a city and state that has long experienced the effects of the deep racial oppression and mass incarceration inherent in the U.S. criminal legal system.”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, since 1988, 86 people have been exonerated in Louisiana. Of those, 72 are Black and 12 served time on death row, underscoring the disproportionate impact of wrongful convictions on Black individuals in the state.

In the vibrant heart of New Orleans, the event was a beacon of inspiration, uniting over 1,200 attendees through through a blend of educational sessions and powerful moments of collective empowerment.

“The conference has been a real eye opener for me, because it shows me I am not alone,” said Innocence Project exoneree Herman Williams, who spent over 28 years in prison.  

“There’s a lot of support here and it makes me feel included.”

Today, the Innocence Network is a growing movement of 71 independent organizations from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Canada, Asia, and the Middle East. 

“Each person who attends the conference makes an impact in the fight against wrongful convictions, and what we learn and experience there together can help illuminate the path forward to create a more equitable and compassionate criminal legal system,” Ms. Kennedy said.

Take a look at the most memorable moments from the conference. 

1. Freedom Parade led by Big Chief Honey Banister, the Golden Sioux, and Edna Karr High School Marching Band

Breaking out from the hotel confines, conference attendees took to the vibrant streets of New Orleans in a spirited second line parade. Led by Big Chief Honey Banister and the Golden Sioux, and the dynamic sounds of the Edna Karr High School marching band, the procession echoed with chants of “no justice, no peace” as hundreds of participants, some waving signs proclaiming “Execution is not the solution” and “What if we got it wrong,” made their voices heard.

“It was important for us to have a second line at this year’s conference to honor the tradition of New Orleans and to celebrate freedom for all of those who have been wrongfully convicted by the criminal legal system,” said Shoshanah Kennedy, Innocence Project’s human resources manager of events and engagement, and one of the lead coordinators of the conference.  

In this shared moment with the city of New Orleans, the message was clear: our mission is one of justice, centered on freeing the innocent, transforming the system responsible for wrongful incarceration, and advancing the innocence movement. Against the backdrop of New Orleans’ rich tradition of second line parades, symbolizing the celebration of life, this march became a powerful statement of solidarity and purpose.

2. Introduction of 400 freed and exonerated community members

In a deeply moving moment, over 400 individuals who had collectively endured a staggering 6,654 years of wrongful incarceration stood united on stage. Among them, more than 100 had regained their freedom in the past year alone and were greeted with heartfelt embraces and resounding applause. 

Artis Whitehead, who was among the first-time attendees, expressed his awe at the sheer scale of injustice represented by the gathering: “It’s mind boggling how so many different states have so many people that have been exonerated.” Mr. Whitehead, was just exonerated in January with the help of the Tennessee Innocence Project

“It’s 400 plus of us who have actually been incarcerated wrongly and done unnecessary amounts of time. This time can never be given back. There’s no other place like [this conference] on the planet.” 

Their shared journey of resilience urges the need for systemic change and the profound impact of the 71 Innocence Network organizations in restoring justice and preventing future wrongful convictions. 

Tennessee Innocence Project exoneree Artis Whitehead at the 2024 Innocence Network Conference in New Orleans. (Image: Claire Bangser/Innocence Project)
“There’s no other place like it on the planet.”
“There’s no other place like it on the planet.”

Artis Whitehead

Tennessee Innocence Project exoneree Artis Whitehead at the 2024 Innocence Network Conference in New Orleans. (Image: Claire Bangser/Innocence Project)

3. Multimedia storytelling of Joyce Watkins, the first Black woman exonerated in Tennessee, and many more.


In 2021, Joyce Watkins became the first Black woman to ever be exonerated in the state of Tennessee thanks to efforts of the Tennessee Innocence Project.

She is one of nearly 300 women who have been exonerated in the U.S. and like the majority of these women, was wrongfully convicted of crimes that never took place at all. Every conference witnesses a growing turnout of women exonerees like Tyra Patterson, Michelle Murphy, Belynda Goff, Renay Lynch, Rosa Jimenez, and dozens of others who are elated to meet each other. 

The Innocence Project worked to capture their stories with video and photography to increase their visibility and unique experience overcoming wrongful conviction.

4. Meet the Innocence Network Award Winners

Norris Henderson – 2024 Champion of Justice Award

Norris Henderson’s work with the Angola Special Civics Project, Voice of the Experienced, and Voters Organized to Educate embodies the spirit of justice and compassion. Mr. Henderson was born and raised in New Orleans and spent 27 years wrongly incarcerated. His efforts to dismantle unjust systems and amplify the voices of those affected by them make him an exemplary Champion of Justice.

Susan Simpson, Jacinda Davis, Kevin Fitzpatrick – 2024 Jim Dwyer Award for Journalism

Susan Simpson, Jacinda Davis, and Kevin Fitzpatrick were honored with the Jim Dwyer Award for Journalism Journalism for their groundbreaking work on the Proof: A True Crime Podcast. Their meticulous investigation and storytelling played a pivotal role in securing the exonerations of Darrell Lee Clark (Georgia Innocence Project) and Cain Joshua Storey. 

Andrew Wilson – 2024 Impact Award

Andrew Wilson (Loyola Project for the Innocent) spent more than 32 years wrongly incarcerated and, since his release in 2017, became the founding donor of the Los Angeles Innocence Project and a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform in California. Mr. Wilson’s establishment of a scholarship for students in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics at California State University, Los Angeles demonstrates his commitment to empowering future generations to enact positive change. 

5. Highlights from the community on social media: #InnocenceConference

Get involved:

  1. Join us for the 2025 Innocence Network Conference in Seattle. Check back for details coming soon
  2. Support your local Innocence Network organization. With over 71 projects around the world, find your nearest Innocence organization


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