CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Jochnowitz on Norris on The Innocence Movement

Leona Deborah Jochnowitz (Northern Vermont University, Johnson State College) has posted Review and Concept Paper; Norris, Robert J., 2017; Exonerated: A History of the Innocence Movement on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The most salient theme of the book is that the Innocence Movement represents one piece of a broader historical and contemporaneous social reform perspective in the pursuit of social and legal justice. The movement cannot be seen in isolation, but is historically part of the movements for social justice rising from the civil rights era and the Earl Warren procedural due process era at the US Supreme Court. And besides the history of the roots in social justice movements, the study of wrongful convictions reveals important contemporaneous issues of criminal justice reform, as well as broader social issues, beyond the “narrow confines of innocence.” “All of the factors that impact what we see in criminal justice also affect wrongful convictions; race class gender, politics, and moral emotions all impact the extent to which people receive justice.” And, further, a study of the legal system and justice itself is an important lens to view larger social problems. The interviewees confirm this. “…Criminal Justice will always tell you a good amount about what is wrong with your society, about what is wrong with your culture…” The issue of prison reform is made even more palatable and enhanced by the fact that in addition to suffering deplorable conditions and abuse in prison, it is happening to undeserving innocent persons. And, beyond prison issues, wrongful convictions allow you to see “fundamental issues like race, authority, and the relationship between citizen and state” more clearly… Debates over the war on drugs and mass incarceration …are intimately tied to conversations about race, class, families, and neighborhoods.” As evidence of the broad reach of the Innocence movement, Norris perceptively suggests that the innocence movement was invigorated by the tough on punishment policies, “punitive turn” because more persons were severely affected.

Another nexus of the social and historical connections of the Innocence Movement is its connection with Death Penalty Abolition discussed in chapter 2 of the book. The connection between Innocence, Exonerations and the Death Penalty is not only an important theme of this book, but is a main issue in the study of the innocence movement, as further discussed below.

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