Reform policing, help exonerees find justice

November 24, 2021
Sunny Jacobs was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1976. Today she advocates on behalf of others like her.
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I was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for murder in 1976. At the time, I was a young mother, wife, daughter, and I was 27 years old. It took 17 years to prove my innocence. 

By then, I was a widow, an orphan, a grandmother, and I was 45 years old. My two children, who were 9 years and 10 months old when I was incarcerated, grew up without me and went into foster care when my parents were killed in a plane crash

My husband was executed on death row 2 1/2 years before the proof of our innocence was revealed. 

I have up-close and personal knowledge of the justice system in the United States and how it functions. Like most systems, its main goal is to self-perpetuate. And those people who work within that system are often committed to the status quo. So, we who see the need to make changes in the justice system are swimming against the tide. But the tide is changing!

Rehabilitation, reconciliation, healing

There are nearly 2,900 exonerees in the United States. Many are the lucky ones who had DNA available in their case.

The Innocence Project, which began in New York and now has branches all over the United States, mainly works with cases that have DNA involved. It is as a result of their brilliant work that many of the wrongly convicted are free today.

Now we know the word exoneree. When I was released, there was no such word, nor was there any knowledge of even the notion that people could be wrongly convicted. 

Look at the case of the two men recently exonerated in the killing of Malcolm X  – another example of how justice is denied when there is a wrongful conviction. 

And the commutation of the death sentence for Julius Jones was another travesty in disguise. They will just give him a slower death in prison. But it does, at least, give him an opportunity to live to see justice done, even if it is too little too late. 

Qualified immunity:City officials threw me in jail to silence me. Years later, I’m still seeking justice.

America’s system needs true equality, transparency and accountability. Those are the three elements that are required in order to make meaningful change. From the moment there’s an accusation, those words need to resonate and take hold of the legal system. From incarceration to release, the main goal for the individual (and for society) needs to be rehabilitation, reconciliation and healing. Punishment and retribution have proved to be impractical and costly, and ultimately do more harm than good.

From the arrest through the trial, there needs to be a true sense that you’re innocent until proven guilty, fairly and honestly. And even in those cases, there can still be individuals who are not guilty, victims of junk science, mistaken identity or misconduct.

Where does equality, transparency and accountability fit?

I lost 17 years of my life, but I’ve lost more than just hours and days. I lost an innocent man who was my husband; I missed birthdays and moments that can never be replicated. My life is dedicated to helping others who have faced wrongful incarceration.

There is a movement now, among forward-seeing prosecutors and district attorneys, to form conviction integrity units. This is a huge step forward and should be supported by the public because it is the public – all of us – that will either suffer or benefit. If you look at the thousands of cases of wrongful convictions, you see the reality – this can happen to anyone! Your neighbor, your grandchild, your friend or YOU.

Trauma crosses all generational lines

Let’s pretend you are going to court. I am the prosecutor. The police will collect all the available evidence and give it to me. I will look at it and decide what the defense can have and what they will not be allowed to see or even know about. If we were playing cards, would you play with me? That is how it works. Yes, there are rules; but there are no real consequences for breaking them. So, these conviction integrity units are set up to try to prevent this from happening and to examine those cases where it might have happened and make them right. These efforts should be supported.

The Innocence Project and all attorneys who work pro bono for clients whose innocence needs to be proven and –  for the most part – who have spent decades in prison for a crime they did not commit, should be supported unequivocally. Local, state and national representatives who are willing to stand up and vote for a complete overhaul of the justice and prison systems should be supported. And anyone providing services toward these ends should be supported.

There should be help pre-trial, during trial and post-trial, not only for the defendants but also for their families. The trauma crosses all generation lines.

The Sunny Center Foundation USA Inc. is dedicated to helping wrongly convicted people to heal, and find health, happiness and hope after their release from prison. 

With a few exceptions, wrongly convicted people upon release are not even entitled to the same services as a guilty person when they are released. They are released with no money, no help with housing, jobs or mental health services. 

It is truly shameful to add insult to injury by not providing any assistance to those people who have been so wronged by our judicial system and our society.

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For society, there are implications for wrongful convictions. Wrongful convictions are extremely costly. Think of the juror who sentenced someone to death who was later proved innocent. What if the person had already been executed? You would have to live with that. You will be another victim of the injustice system.

Injustice means we don’t really have a justice system in America. But we have the chance to change that now. Support the changes that are necessary. Support the people willing to step up and fight for those changes – for you. And support those of us trying to help rebuild the lives of those who have suffered as a result of the present injustice system.

Together, we can do this! What a wonderful legacy to leave for our children and grandchildren.

Sunny Jacobs was wrongfully convicted in 1976. She and her husband, Peter Pringle, also wrongfully convicted, advocate on behalf of others like them. If you would like more information on how you can help, get in touch with Sunny and Peter at the Sunny Center Foundation.

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Life is like a running cycle right! I am a news editor at TIMES. Collecting News is my passion. Because my visitors have the right to know the truth and perfectly.

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