"Rebuilding the Lives of the Wrongfully Convicted"

Technical Assistance

Spending years locked behind bars for a crime you did not commit is a devastating experience that creates a unique set of challenges to readjusting to life outside of prison. Most agencies are not prepared to assist exonerees with the challenges they face. The Life After Exoneration Program provides guidance to individuals and agencies working with the exonerated. This support has been used by family members, lawyers, psychologists, innocence projects, and state agencies that have limited experience with the traumatic effects of wrongful conviction and exoneration.

Like war veterans and torture survivors, the wrongfully convicted have suffered a life-changing event that few others can meaningfully imagine. Depression, alienation, and post-traumatic stress syndrome are common for many who have lived through such experiences.

Although there are similarities, appreciating major differences between the exonerated and other survivors is crucial to developing acomprehensive understanding of the challenges the face. Unlike war veterans or torture victims, the wrongfully convicted cannot leave the perpetrator of the injustice they suffered behind because it is a part of the fabric of the society in which they live. And, unlike war, there is often nothing to come back to once the trauma ends. A wrongful conviction can destroy everything of value in a person’s life –assets, reputation, career, family, friends, and even, in many cases, one’s sense of self.

Dr. Lola Vollen, a physician specializing in the aftermath of human rights abuses and founder of the Life After Exoneration Program, saw the similarities between torture survivors and exonerees but was stunned to learn that, unlike torture survivors, the exonerated were not provided the help they needed once they were released. Bringing to bear many of the principles underlying care for survivors of torture, Dr. Vollen started the Life After Exoneration Program in 2003. Now, after working with over one hundred exonerees, the Life After Exoneration Program is helping to illuminate and address the distinctive issues and challenges facing the exonerated today by providing guidance and support to the individuals and agencies who work to better the lives of the wrongfully convicted and exonerated.