July 15, 2020 – “I had the unrealistic, naive expectation that the criminal justice system would give me the same presumption of innocence as it does my counterparts, and that's just simply not the case,” said Jarrett Adams, who was 17 when he was wrongfully convicted of a crime in Wisconsin and spent 10 years in prison.
But in 2007, he was exonerated, with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. A Chicago native, Adams went on to graduate from Loyola University School of Law and now specializes in criminal defense and civil rights cases. He is based in New York City. In this interview, Adams says the criminal justice system needs foundational change.
“What we are dealing with now is the leaky faucet, for years, because of what is going on with the piping system. For years, the economically and educationally poor neighborhoods have been neglected, let's just be honest. Now that we are here, we have to do the work and not gloss over it. We have to repair our educational system in these areas.
“We have to put an emphasis on the Department of Corrections rehabilitating people and not simply warehousing them, because what it creates is a merry-go-round of people who are picked up in impoverished areas, spending decades in prison, then released ill-prepared for society, back in those same impoverished areas.”
More diversity in the legal profession, he said, will result in more equality by pushing change litigation. “You have people who have the power to change, but they aren’t the closest to the problem. It is those who are closest to the problem who are farthest away from the resources to change the problem. That’s falling on the doorstep of attorneys.”
What Does this Moment in Justice Reform Mean to You?
In recent weeks, millions of people across our communities have come together in an historic movement that calls for fundamental change addressing systemic racism. Jarrett Adams, along with 25 other lawyers, were asked to tell us what this moment in American, racial, social, and legal justice reform means to them. Read the July-August Wisconsin Lawyer, coming out later this month.
To learn what the State Bar is doing – and how you can help – to combat racial injustice and disparities, advance equal justice, and promote diversity and inclusion, visit wisbar.org/racialequity.