HAMMOND — Roosevelt Glenn wants to ensure no one again has to endure the experiences he's lived through as an innocent man who served nearly two decades behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.
A Lake County jury found Glenn guilty of rape in 1993 and sentenced him to 36 years in prison. He was released in 2009 after completing his sentence with good behavior, but still was required to register as a sex offender and take classes aimed at reducing his supposed violent tendencies.
In 2016, DNA evidence conclusively showed Glenn did not commit the crime that sent him to prison and the former Region steelworker was exonerated.
Glenn has since pieced his life back together, which he credits to his family and to his faith, but he believes the system that erroneously locked him up needs to be broken apart, not least because of the racial disparities common to wrongful convictions.
The issue of race and wrongful convictions was the subject of a virtual presentation attended by more than 200 people Tuesday through Purdue University Northwest, featuring Glenn and PNW Associate Professor Nicky Jackson, who leads the university's criminal justice program.
Data presented during the program show there were 143 people in 34 states exonerated last year of crimes for which they were convicted and who served a collective 1,908 years in prison.
Jackson said official misconduct by police and prosecutors was a leading cause of wrongful convictions, along with perjured trial testimony, usually by jailhouse snitches, mistaken identification by crime witnesses, false DNA results, and false confessions by innocent suspects, typically to secure a reduced prison term.
African Americans tend to be particularly victimized by wrongful convictions, comprising 49% of exonerations despite making up just 14% of the nation's population, Jackson said.
"It's a startling number," Jackson said. "And this is happening in our backyards. This is happening in our state. This is right here. This could be anyone."
Both Jackson and Glenn said reducing the number of wrongful convictions starts with holding police and prosecutors more responsible for their mistakes.
Glenn also believes judges, particularly appellate judges, need to more thoroughly investigate the criminal appeals presented to them and not just toss reasonable arguments or claims of innocence solely due to legal technicalities, as Glenn said repeatedly happened to him.
He said he expected, as an innocent man, that the system would work, and recognize he did not rape a woman in Hammond while he was in Gary. But no matter the arguments he made in court, his convictions were consistently upheld and he remained locked up.
"The police officer in my case had a bad history (with wrongful convictions)," Glenn said. "Some things need to change and we have to work on reforms."
The Indiana General Assembly last year approved a new law, House Enrolled Act 1150, that permits a person to receive $50,000 for each year the person spent in the Indiana Department of Correction, or a county jail, for a conviction that was vacated due to actual innocence of the crime for which he or she was convicted.
According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which administers the exoneree compensation program, 15 applications for monetary awards have been received since Nov. 1, eight are under review, five were deemed invalid and one has been accepted.
Glenn, who wrote a book about his experience titled "Innocent Nightmare" but has not otherwise been compensated for his wrongful conviction, said getting the state program up and running urgently is needed because innocent men and women released from prison often have nothing more than the clothes on their backs and no one to return home to.
"I lost my whole career. I lost 401(k)s, retirement, pensions. Now at the age of 59, what do I do?" Glenn asked.
Gallery: Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail
James Lenoir Williams
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.