I’ve been engaged in social justice advocacy for more than 25 years. In that time, I’ve seen how important a fair and accurate criminal justice system is to our society. When crimes are committed, our system should determine the truth. Unfortunately, time and time again, the system gets it wrong.
Earlier this month, Glen Chapman of North Carolina became the 128th prisoner on death row to be released since 1972. The courts found that detectives committed perjury at Chatman’s trial and withheld potential evidence of his innocence from his defense attorneys. The forensic evidence was so bad that one of the two homicides pinned on Chapman may in fact have been a drug overdose. Chatman, who spent 14 years behind bars, was also a victim of bad defense lawyering.
Chapman’s exoneration doesn’t prove the system works. Just the opposite: It shows how a broken system produces spectacular failures that are bad for defendants and victims alike. That’s why I founded The Justice Project, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system.
A large part of our work involves educating citizens and criminal justice stakeholders about the serious problems and common-sense solutions in a way that creates an environment for reform. People need to know that these problems are not rare or isolated incidents. Stories like the one mentioned above are reported every day around the country, but all too often they reach a limited audience or wind up lost in the shuffle of other news coverage.
This is why we have helped launch The Justice NewsLadder, a new web site designed to make staying on top of developments in criminal justice reform easier. The Justice Newsladder pulls together daily news articles, blog posts, videos and other media so that real-time information is readily accessible with the click of a mouse. On The Justice NewsLadder, you’ll find information about the problems of unreliable witness identification, false confessions, junk forensic science and more. You’ll also find stories of people taking on the difficult work of making the system better.
In addition, we are launching two state-specific NewsLadders – the Tennessee Justice NewsLadder and the Texas Justice NewsLadder – to provide information about states where we are actively engaged in improving the state justice systems.
You can play an important role in making the Justice NewsLadders an essential tool for criminal justice reform. The format of The Justice NewsLadder allows anyone who signs up to post a link, recommend a link, comment on a story and raise the profile of a story by voting it up the ladder. The more people join and the more information they post to the Justice NewsLadder, the better informed we all will be.
Access to information is essential to understanding the issues and being able to take action to create a more just and humane world. We hope The Justice NewsLadder will help more people understand not only the challenges we face, but also the actions we need to take to achieve a more just and accurate criminal justice system.
John F. Terzano is President of The Justice Project, a nonpartisan organization that works to increase fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system, with a focus on the capital punishment system. The blog was originally published on The Huffington Post.