California Western Professor Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project (CIP), has worked for decades to free wrongfully convicted individuals from incarceration. While the notion of removing an innocent person from prison seems obvious, it's not as simple as it should be—but Brooks has high hopes that procedural changes can lead to the development of a model criminal justice system right in our own backyard.
For his summary of systemic discrepancies and pioneering ways to fix them, San Diego Magazine named Brooks one of 26 San Diegans with 'game-changing ideas' for the city.
"I'm honored to be recognized among so many innovative thinkers," says Brooks. "I truly believe we can create a model criminal justice system here in San Diego that would be the envy of the rest of the country. We have great public defender's and district attorney's offices and a chief of police interested in reform. California Western can be a critical partner as we educate future community leaders and work together with our current leaders."
To date, CIP has exonerated 19 individuals—but there are more than 6,000 Californians behind bars that shouldn't even be in custody. He points to witness misidentification, false testimony, false confessions, bad police work, and bad lawyering as the leading causes of wrongful convictions.
Brooks would like to probe deeper and do the kind of investigating that happens after a plane crash. Utilizing the latest scientific identification procedures, recording all interrogations, hiring independent laboratories rather than police crime labs—these are all steps that can be taken to initiate reform. To pay for the extra work, Brooks suggests we stop pursuing costly death penalty cases, and use those resources to investigate uncharged rape and murder cases.
As for dealing with resistance to change, "I'd like to see every police officer, prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge spend one day in jail, so they have at least the slightest idea what people go through when the system gets it wrong."