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The National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) was founded in 2012, and is a joint project of MSU Law, the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, and the University of Michigan Law School. It serves as a clearinghouse of detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989. MSU Law Professor O’Brien is the Registry’s editor and MSU Law Professor Catherine Grosso serves as the managing editor. To date, the Registry has documented over 2000 exonerations since 1989, registering 166 in 2016.

Beyond tracking exonerations and studying the underlying causes of false convictions, the Registry’s purpose is to raise awareness of and sensitivity to the problem of wrongful convictions, both with the public and especially among police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.

In March 2017, they also released a report on the role of racial bias in wrongful convictions. 1,900 exoneration cases over almost three decades were reviewed, and the examination found that black people convicted of murder or sexual assault are significantly more likely than white people to be later found innocent of the crimes, and had to wait on average 3 years for their names to be cleared.

“So there are more innocence projects now, there are more Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs) in prosecutors’ offices where they actually have some mechanism to revisit questionable convictions.” O’Brien notes that there is no way to know the full scope of the problem.

Still, “The fact we have more exonerations, I think, means we are making progress,” O’Brien said.