Christina Swarns, Executive Director of the Innocence Project
In this episode of Talks at GS, Christina Swarns, executive director of the Innocence Project, discusses the organization’s work to free wrongfully imprisoned individuals and her focus on the structural reforms needed to prevent wrongful convictions in the future. She is joined by Huwe Burton, a former client who was wrongfully convicted of murder as a teenager and subsequently exonerated after nearly 20 years in prison.
Swarns on her leadership of the Innocence Project: “I am 100% clear—and I wouldn't have taken the job if I weren't 100% clear—that the work of representing the innocent absolutely inures to the benefit of the entire system, because what we show are structural problems with the system. It's not just for the individuals that we are representing—what we are doing is shining a light on the way that the system is failing large categories of people.”
Swarns on reforming the justice system: “I think the pivotal reform that we need, that underscores all of it 100%, is accountability, accountability, accountability. Right now we have a system where police officers who are involved in procuring a false confession… there aren't repercussions. The prosecutors who present false evidence that wind up with people being incarcerated for decades of their lives—innocent people, who lose decades of their lives to a prison system that is horrendous—there are no repercussions. And so for me, unless and until we create incentive structures that give people a reason to do the work to make sure that we are identifying and prosecuting and convicting and incarcerating the right people, we are going to be back in this situation.”
This session was recorded on on February 25, 2021.