“Take It One Day at a Time and Try to Adjust to What's Going on”: Exonerees’ Advice to the Newly Exonerated and Future Exonerees About Life Post-Release

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Take It One Day at a Time
and Try to Adjust to Whats
Going on: ExonereesAdvice
to the Newly Exonerated and
Future Exonerees About Life
Rashaan A. DeShay
Wrongful convictions have received increased attention from both scholars and the media over the
past several decades. Most of the research on this topic has focused on the factors that contribute to
wrongful convictions and policy changes that may help prevent future miscarriages of justice. Scholars
have also explored the post-release experiences of those who have been exonerated. Less attention
has been paid to the advice exonerees would share withthose who have been recentlyexonerated to
help them navigate their new lives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals who
were wrongfully convicted in the southern United States to explore this issue. While acknowledging
that the post-exoneration transition could be challenging, the participants noted that they would
advise those who are newly exonerated that faith, talking to other exonerees, learning how to be
patient with the process, and f‌inding a way to enjoy their new lives were important to navigating
this process. This study highlights the value of exploring the perspectives of exonerees to increase
our understanding of their experiences, while also using their insight to inform policy that will assist
the wrongfully convicted after being exonerated and released from prison.
wrongful conviction, exonerees, advice for exonerees, post-exoneration experiences, reentry
To date, there have been 375 DNA exonerations in the United States, with 21 of these individuals
having served time on death row before being exonerated (Innocence Project, n.d.). According to
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Rashaan A. DeShay, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Texas at Arlington, 362 University Hall,
Box 19595, Arlington, TX 76019, USA.
Email: rashaan.deshay@uta.edu
Criminal Justice Review
2023, Vol. 48(1) 69-84
© 2021 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168211059127
the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been approximately 2,800 exonerations, with other
sources estimating that more than 180 individuals have been exonerated from death row (Death
Penalty Information Center, n.d.; National Registry of Exonerations, n.d.). Between 1989 and
June 2021, the wrongfully convicted have lost a combined 25,000 years due to these miscarriages
of justice (National Registry of Exonerations, 2021a). Over the last several decades, wrongful con-
victions have received attention from attorneys, scholars, and the media (Huff et al., 1986; Scheck
et al., 2000; Walberg, 2009). In part, this is due to the attention given to nationally recognized orga-
nizations such as the Innocence Project and the Center for Wrongful Convictions. In addition, the
national medias role has involved informing the general public about exonerations via news
stories, documentaries, and major motion pictures (California Innocence Project, n.d.; Equal
Justice Initiative, 2019; Goldberg, 2019; Hall, 2021; Innocence Project, 2016; Jackman, 2019;
King, 2018; Walberg, 2009). Recently, we have also seen the ability of social media to reach and
inform large audiences about wrongful convictions, sparking an interest in cases and criminal
justice reform (Linna, 2020).
While other scholars have explored the struggles exonerees face post-release, little attention has
been paid to asking exonerees directly to discuss the advice they would give to newly exonerated
and released individuals (see Healing Justice, 2020 for an exception). This research is needed
because there are thousands of people in the United States who have been exonerated, and
recent exoneration trends suggest that we will continue to see wrongfully convicted individuals
released for years to come. According to the National Registry of Exonerations (2021b), the
year 2020 saw 129 exonerations in 27 states, D.C., and the federal system. In addition, currently
36 states, D.C., and the federal government offer compensation packages for those who have been
wrongfully convicted. These statutes, however, are not created equal (e.g., caps on the dollar
amount that can be received, excluding some exonerees from eligibility, offering little or no phys-
ical and mental health benef‌its) (Innocence Project, 2021; National Registry of Exonerations,
2021a). The current study advances the literature on the post-exoneration/release experiences of
exonerees, by asking those who have been wrongfully convicted to provide their thoughts and
advice in their own words. Its f‌indings may also be used to inform policy, help enhance existing
compensation packages, and make a true effort to address the wellbeing of exonerees as they
try to navigate reintegration.
While research has discussed the need to provide adequate compensation in various ways to the
wrongfully convicted (Chunias & Aufgang, 2008; Gutman, 2017; Innocence Project, 2021; Kregg,
2016; Trivelli, 2016), it is also important to help prepare them for what they may encounter post-
release as an exoneree. One way this can be accomplished is by listening to what those who have
already been exonerated have experienced. While the legal system needs to continue to make
progress in preventing wrongful convictions, it also needs to ensure that the exonerated have what
they need, which may include receiving emotional support and advice from other exonerees
(Healing Justice, 2020; Weigand, 2009).
Wrongful Convictions and Their Consequences
Literature on wrongful convi ctions dates back over 85 years to the work of a Yale Law Professor
(Borchard, 1932). A signif‌icant am ount of the research conducted by sch olars has focused on the
factors contributing to wrongf ul convictions (Bedau & Radelet, 19 87; Borchard, 1932; Gould
et al., 2013; Gross & Shaffer , 2012; Huff, 2004; Huff et al., 1986; LaPorte, 2018; Rattn er, 1988;
Scheck et al., 2000; Schehr & Sear s, 2005). Research has also tr ied to estimate the percent of c on-
victions that may be wrongful convict ions, f‌inding that criminal justice prof essionals tend to
estimate that they occur i n their own jurisdictions bet ween approximately .5-1% of felony cases,
and between 13% of all felony ca ses in the U.S. (Ramsey & Frank, 2007 ; Zalman et al., 2008).
70 Criminal Justice Review 48(1)

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