Center establishes program to help freed inmates adjust

Sheila Burt

Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions has a new program to help wrongfully convicted individuals adjust to society, and officials said if it succeeds they would like to expand to include other services.

“From a humanitarian standpoint, our society has injured these people very badly,” said Robert Warden, associate director of the center. “We want to step in to do what we can.”

Warden said the program follows a national movement to help the wrongfully convicted, although the program currently focuses on wrongfully convicted individuals in Illinois.

James Newsome, community relations director at the center, said the program helps recently released wrongfully convicted individuals with health care, offering dental, therapeutic and psychological treatment. The program has helped three people with transitioning, Newsome said, a process that helps make their “lives whole again.”

“Society, people and the community owe them at least a hand in trying to help them become restored through (these) gestures,” he said.

As one of the leaders of the project, Newsome experienced firsthand the difficulties of adjusting back into society. He was wrongfully convicted of murder and armed robbery in 1980 and sentenced to life in prison.

After a fingerprint analysis proved Newsome’s innocence, he was freed in 1994 and later pardoned by former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.

“We want (the wrongfully convicted) to go up front,” Newsome said. “They deserve to be able to be presented as a special class of people.”

Newsome said the program depends financially on private donors and the help of NU physicians, but he hopes to increase funding by contacting different humanitarian organizations and any other citizens interested in donations.

The program also might expand to provide other services to the wrongfully convicted, such as job placement, Newsome said.

“These centers and projects are new,” Newsome said. “As we move along, we try to understand better what we’re missing.”