The Innocence Institute of Point Park University is a nonprofit investigative journalism program dedicated to providing students with journalistic fundamentals and understanding to examine, write and broadcast allegations concerning wrongful convictions within 100 miles of Pittsburgh.
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University is a university curriculum that trains students in investigative reporting methods by enabling them to examine allegations of wrongful convictions and prosecutorial abuse in the criminal justice system. Based on other successful innocence programs around the country, the program at Point Park is unique in its approach as it offers one of the only established journalism-based programs for graduate and undergraduate students in investigative reporting.
While most innocence projects in the country are allied with university schools of law or private law firms, the Innocence Institute is part of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Point Park University.
It allows students to enhance their journalism education by learning to develop the basis for investigative stories by visiting crime scenes, interviewing witnesses, and seeking out previously overlooked evidence in wrongful conviction cases. This includes in-depth investigative journalism that often results in stories being published in local, regional and national media.
The Innocence Institute has developed two research and reporting courses for undergraduate and graduate students to go along with a variety of other existing courses to further develop a wide ranging journalism curriculum focusing on issues in the criminal justice system.
- Innocence Institute students have examined more than 3,000 cases for ways to prove actual innocence since its 2001 inception;
- Seventeen convictions have been overturned after Innocence Institute investigations;
- Forty-seven additional cases where specific actual innocence or gross prosecutorial misconduct have been identified are pending;
- More than 100 present and former students have received credit for stories published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, many of which appeared on the front page;
- Ten advertising and public relations students have earned professional experience by creating brochures, building and implementing direct mail campaigns, devising public relations campaigns, distributing news releases, staging fundraisers and other public awareness campaigns;
- The program director and its students have appeared in more than 100 local, regional and national media stories in the past five years, including radio, television, magazines, newspapers, wire services and the Internet to discuss the outcome of its cases and trends in the law;
- The Innocence Institute journalists have reaped numerous honors for their work, including being a finalist of the Investigative Reporting and Editor Assn.’s Tom Renner (national) Award, regional and national awards from the national Society of Professional Journalists, SPJ’s Pennsylvania “Spotlight” award, Western Pennsylvania Press Club awards and the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation’s 2005 and 2006 investigative reporting prizes;
- Dozens of Innocence Institute students have found employment in the field of journalism following graduation;
- In a 2004 evaluative study of the Innocence Institute students 84 percent indicated they had gained working knowledge of the criminal justice system through the curricula, 96 percent said they have a better ability to scrutinize police reports and statements, 80 percent indicated they had learned how to interview witnesses, and 100 percent of the respondents indicated they understood how to write in the narrative journalistic style.