Northeastern honors Innocence Project, advocates for wrongly convicted criminals

Because of the Innocence Project, nearly 400 innocent people who were serving long sentences now walk free, including 20 inmates on death row. The organization, which advocates on behalf of wrongly convicted inmates, has also helped track down more than 150 criminals. And the group’s work has resulted in the exoneration of people in 37 states.

Perhaps none of these victories would have been possible without Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, who banded together in 1992 to found the Innocence Project in the wake of a study that found that incorrect identification by eyewitnesses was a factor in more than 70 percent of wrongful convictions.

Northeastern’s Barnett Institute for Chemical and Biological Analysis and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice have selected Scheck and Neufeld as recipients of their Richard Saferstein Award in Forensic Science.

During a ceremony on Wednesday where they will be presented with a medal recognizing their achievements, Scheck and Neufeld will address the Northeastern community on the advances that have been made in forensics since the publication of a landmark report produced by scientific and legal experts at the National Academy of Sciences in 2009.

Peter Neufeld (left) and Barry Scheck. Courtesy photos

In a talk titled “NAS—Strengthening Forensic Science: 10 Years Later,” Scheck and Neufeld, who hold honorary degrees from Northeastern’s School of Law, will discuss how the report established a blueprint for forensic science research and spurred science-based criminal justice reforms.

“The progress that it set in motion cannot be understated,” Neufeld said in a post on the Innocence Project website. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the report has freed innocent people and saved lives.”

Finding that certain techniques suffered from a “notable dearth of peer-reviewed, published studies,” the report is credited with putting the general perception of forensic evidence’s reliability under scrutiny. The report also acknowledged the limitations of commonly used forensic techniques, such as bite mark analysis, microscopic hair analysis, and fingerprint examination.

The lecture series, which is co-sponsored by the Barnett Institute and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, was established by the late forensic scientist Richard Saferstein, whose family agreed to designate an endowment to continue the series, according to Patricia Flint, the assistant vice president for interdisciplinary initiatives in the Office of University Advancement.

Since its inception in 2000, the lecture series has brought many distinguished scholars in the forensic science and criminal justice fields to Northeastern. The recipients are selected by a committee of faculty and previous beneficiaries. Last year’s lecturer and award recipient was Bruce Goldberger, a professor of toxicology and forensics at the University of Florida.

The award ceremony will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m. at 240 Dockser Hall in the School of Law on Northeastern’s Boston campus. A question-and-answer session will follow the lecture.

For media inquiries, please contact