EJI provides legal assistance to death row inmates and to the poor in Alabama, a state with no public defender system, where the average capital trial lasts three days. Three days.
Thousands of prisoners in Alabama have been sentenced to life in prison without parole and other excessive punishments for non-violent offenses. One EJI client is an Alabama prisoner who has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for stealing a bicycle.
As a result of inadequate representation, many people have been illegally convicted and sentenced. An alarming number of these men, women and children are innocent. Death row prisoners have been convicted even though their lawyers were cited as being drunk in court, subsequently disbarred or publicly supported a conviction and death sentence for their client. EJI challenges the dangers inherent in a deficient criminal defense system that places the poor at a disadvantage. EJI is dedicated to reforming inadequate indigent defense systems and attempting to bridge the tremendous gap that separates legal services for the poor and the affluent in the criminal justice system.
The driving force behind EJI is Bryan Stevenson. If you're looking for a hero, Stevenson fits the bill. He's a graduate of Harvard Law, who's been honored with:
… the American Bar Association's Wisdom Award for public service, the ACLU's National Medal of Liberty, and the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award.
Yet, Doug Davidson writes in The Other Side magazine:
Bryan has kept none of the more than $300,000 in prize money. Instead he pours it back into EJI's work, while continuing to live in a rented apartment on an annual salary of $25,000.
EJI has gotten dozens of cases overturned. That's dozens of people — mostly poor, young black men — sentenced to death or to life in prison for crimes they did not commit. The legal system did not provide justice for these people, only EJI did. (And, as far as I can tell, Larry King and that shrieking blonde harridan sidekick of his on CNN's court TV have never uttered a syllable about any of these trials.)
Atrios' fundraising effort arose from his own legal troubles. The threat of a frivolous, but costly, lawsuit brought in many pledges of support for the "Atrios legal defense fund."
When his own dispute was settled outside of court, Atrios, to his great credit, decided to rechannel all those offers of financial assistance to people who needed it more than he did — the poor and disenfranchised people helped by the work of EJI. Here is Atrios' own description of the fundraising campaign. He's got a pay-pal donation link set up at the top-left of his main page.
If I haven't yet convinced you that EJI is worthy of your support, read Davidson's entire interview.