Chicago Beyond, an impact investor that works to ensure all young people have the opportunity to live a free and full life, announced today its $3.2 million partnership with Life After Justice (LAJ), a non-profit organization that works to correct unjust laws, exonerate the wrongfully convicted and assists exonerees in rebuilding their lives.
LAJ was founded in 2012 by Jarrett Adams and Antione Day, two Black men convicted for crimes they did not commit. Adams and Day were both exonerated after serving nearly ten years in prison. When they came home to find a shortage of support services and employment opportunities, Adams and Day created LAJ to provide re-entry support for exonerees. LAJ expanded their mission to tackle the criminal legal system’s deep flaws and injustices in policing, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration that disproportionately impact people of color. Adams later obtained a law degree, clerked on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (the same court that overturned his conviction), began working with criminal justice groups like the Innocence Project, and opened his law practice.
LAJ’s approach is distinct in that it focuses on the cases of innocent individuals that have no exculpatory DNA evidence, which is considerably more difficult to prove. Through strategic litigation, LAJ also seeks to correct the 5 key flaws in the legal and legislative systems that are responsible for 80% of wrongful conviction cases: witness misidentification, faulty forensic evidence, false confessions, perjury/false accusations and official misconduct. Importantly, LAJ also addresses exoneree’s personal needs for holistic healing and financial wellbeing.
“Chicago Beyond is proud to support a transformative organization like Life After Justice. Jarrett and his team are committed to righting the wrongs of our nation’s criminal justice system through legislative action, supporting people who were wrongly convicted, and creating holistic healing environments for people released from prison,” said Liz Dozier, Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond.
Chicago Beyond’s investment in LAJ is significant to the organization, which has been operating on a volunteer basis, with no institutional funding, since 2012. Chicago Beyond’s partnership and $3.2 million in financial support will help LAJ to:
Hire legal and after exoneration program staff;
Support initial case discovery and litigation;
Increase access to holistic mental health care and ancillary services for exonerees;
Build out organizational infrastructure; and
Elevate LAJ’s work in transforming the criminal legal system, which includes securing a clemency petition for Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne, LAJ’s first major legal challenge that addresses the incongruities that exist between federal and state courts.
LAJ’s work aims to create lasting change in the legal system on the legislative, judicial, and societal levels. LAJ’s Program Model includes:
Battling Injustice-Strategic Litigation: Change laws, policies, and practices to prevent wrongful convictions by creating new, precedent-setting case law that undoes ill-conceived legislation and the poorly written laws it creates; secure relief or benefits, including monetary awards for exonerees; raise public awareness on injustices and wrongful convictions; and prioritize non-DNA evidence cases. By taking on non-DNA cases, LAJ navigates the appellate process to secure the release of wrongfully convicted individuals, while simultaneously working to change laws that will affect thousands of Americans each year.
Reclaiming Lives-Holistic Mental Health & Wellness Empowerment Programming: Support individuals with the tools and resources they need to process their traumatic experiences by providing access to trained psychologists and therapists; supply exonerees with technology that helps them to navigate the shifting technological landscape, which can include cell phones and laptops.
Economic Justice Advocacy: Demonstrate and advocate for governments to provide holistic support integral to exonerees thriving post-release, which includes adequate monetary awards and holistic social services.
Clemency Petition for Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne
Currently, LAJ is bringing awareness to a case in Virginia and requesting that President Joe Biden grant clemency and exonerate Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne. Richardson and Claiborne have served more than 20 years in federal prison for the 1998 murder of Alan Gibson, a Waverly, Virginia police officer, despite a federal jury finding them not guilty of the crime.
Richardson and Claiborne pleaded guilty to the murder in state court, accepting plea deals to avoid possible death sentences. A few years later, federal prosecutors added drug trafficking charges, landing both of them in federal court. They were found guilty of a drug charge that would typically result in about ten years in prison, but the judge increased and enhanced their sentence based on their earlier guilty pleas.
“The disproportionate effect the criminal system is having on communities of color can only be described as persistent traumatic stress. The holistic approach of LAJ is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, pass laws that protect against wrongful convictions and provide the mental healthcare support that is desperately needed,” said Jarrett Adams, Esq., President and Exoneree of Life After Justice.
The new partnership builds on Chicago Beyond’s Justice Initiatives, a commitment that focuses on strategies to reduce incarceration and increase safety in all communities – including the ones behind the correctional walls – because of both the magnitude of people impacted and the collective trauma of the status quo. Last year, Chicago Beyond became LAJ’s first institutional funder when they received resources through Chicago Beyond’s Rapid Response Fund. The funding provided LAJ exonerees access to therapy for mental and emotional healing and cell phones and laptops to pursue job opportunities and connect with friends and family.