Alternate: Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Thompson is the Founder and President of Healing Justice, which aims to address the personal toll of wrongful convictions on all involved. Jennifer founded Healing Justice based on her experience with a failed criminal justice process that sent an innocent person to prison and left the true perpetrator free to commit additional crimes. Healing Justice facilitates restorative justice and reconciliation in cases involving exonerations; organizes volunteer service providers to provide direct support and assistance in the aftermath of exonerations; and creates opportunities to unify the diverse voices of those affected by wrongful convictions.
Jennifer’s ordeal with the criminal justice system began in 1984, when she survived a brutal attack as a college student in North Carolina. Police charged Ronald Cotton with the crime, and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Ronald maintained his innocence and, in 1995, DNA testing led to identification of Jennifer’s attacker and also exonerated Ronald, who had spent 11 years in prison after his wrongful conviction. In 1997, Jennifer and Ronald met and became friends. Together they co-authored a joint memoir, Picking Cotton, a New York Times bestseller, which recounts their journeys, the tragedy that brought them together, and their mutual belief that such errors must be recognized, that concrete reforms can lessen the probability of such mistakes, and that apology and forgiveness are important elements of healing. Jennifer and Ronald speak before a variety of audiences about wrongful convictions, race, class, and forgiveness.
Jennifer is also a nationally-known advocate for criminal justice reform, focusing on the human impact of wrongful convictions, the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, the need to combat sexual violence, and the healing power of forgiveness. She has successfully lobbied state legislators to change compensation laws for the wrongly convicted, to revise police eyewitness line-up procedures, and for many other causes. She was a member of the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission, worked with the North Carolina legislature to pass the Racial Justice Act, and worked in the legislatures of New Jersey, Ohio, Connecticut, and Montana as they have considered judicial reforms. She has appeared on Oprah, Sixty Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, 20/20, The View, NPR, Diane Rhems, PBS Frontline, A&E American Justice, Sundance Winner After Innocence, People magazine, RedBook, Newsweek, and in other media outlets. Jennifer’s Op-Eds have appeared in The New York Times, the Durham Herald-Sun, and the Tallahassee Democrat. Her writings have appeared in NPR’s “This I Believe,” the Albany Law Journal, and in other outlets.