The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) is a non-profit clinical program of Santa Clara University School of Law whose mission is to promote a fair, effective and compassionate criminal justice system and protect the rights of the innocent. We challenge wrongful convictions on every front by exonerating the innocent, educating future attorneys, and reforming criminal justice policy.
History of NCIP
NCIP was started in 2001 by Kathleen “Cookie” Ridolfi and Linda Starr at a moment when new legislation had been adopted in California (California Penal Code section 1405) to permit convicted inmates to seek DNA testing to prove their innocence. Both Cookie and Linda had worked for many years as trial and appellate attorneys in the criminal justice system and, seeing an opportunity to rectify errors in the system and free innocent people who had been wrongfully convicted, they set up the Northern California Innocence Project. Working with volunteer staff and law students in an existing criminal law clinic at Santa Clara University Law School, they immediately took on cases which would lead to the first exonerations in 2002.
Today, NCIP has 13 full time staff people and is housed in office space across the street from the Santa Clara University campus. Cookie has returned to full-time law teaching at SCU, while Linda remains NCIP’s legal director. Hadar Harris is NCIP’s executive director. While NCIP is a project of SCU Law School, we raise our own funds through individual donations and grants and administer our own budget. Dozens of law students, volunteer attorneys and investigators assist in our work. In 2015, NCIP hired our first full-time policy director to expand work to address systemic issues and to advocate policy reforms. Over the years, thousands of inmates have sought NCIP’s help. To date, NCIP has attained justice for 18 innocent people who, collectively, spent more than 230 years in prison.
Mission and Vision
The mission of the Northern California Innocence Project is to create a fair, effective and compassionate criminal justice system and to exonerate the innocent.
The Northern California Innocence Project envisions a criminal justice system that makes us safer, is cost-effective, and is fair and equitable. NCIP envisions a criminal justice system that accurately separates the innocent from the guilty and treats all with fairness and compassion. NCIP strives to partner with all stakeholders — from law enforcement to advocates — to ensure that this vision is realized.
In January 2014, the Northern California Innocence Project completed a comprehensive strategic planning process and published the resulting five-year Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan outlines key findings from more than 25 key stakeholder interviews, sets out NCIP’s new mission and vision, and provides organizational goals, strategies and objectives that will guide NCIP’s work for the next five years.