‘After Innocence’ Shines Light on Lingering Injustice for the Exonerated

DNA evidence exonerates the wrongfully accused but it doesn’t restore their lives, according to After Innocence, a 2005 documentary directed by Jessica Sanders.

After Innocence profiles eight men accused of murder, rape, and other crimes who had their convictions overturned after prison sentences. Former police officer Scott Hornoff served almost seven years in prison. Nick Yarris served more than 20, spending most of that time in solitary confinement and on death row. These situations happen all across the United States, from Massachusetts to Louisiana and from Pennsylvania to California.

While family and friends do make a difference, other challenges remain. The time spent in prison means no career development, no income, and no credit upon release. While those on parole or released after sentences receive assistance through job training, job placement, and transitional housing, those released on proven innocence struggle to secure apartments and find employment. Most job applications ask about convictions. With the convictions still on their records but not expunged, they must reveal the information.

As one exonerated man’s sister states, “People didn’t know that he’s out because he’s innocent. People just know he’s out.”

After Innocence also shows the efforts of The Innocence Project and others trying to change the situation for the wrongfully imprisoned and for those released. The Innocence Project in particular drives the efforts for DNA testing to prove innocence and to change laws to prevent these situations from happening to others.

After Innocence features extensive interviews with both the exonerated and the experts, giving equal voice to both and offering the personal and the system perspectives. The eight men profiled at length talk openly about their challenges and their hopes for the future — a job, a home, a family. Archival materials illustrate their situations as well.

Follow-ups at the end of the documentary offer updates on their stories. Sometimes, those updates feel tacked on when the profiles are superficial, but in this instance they are genuine.

The more official voices include The Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck and even former Illinois Governor George Ryan, who commuted all the death-row sentences in the state to life sentences before leaving office.

Overall, After Innocence brings insight into the continuing injustice for the wrongfully accused and the efforts made to change that situation.

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