Law/Justice

‘A Jailhouse Lawyer Frees Herself,’ by Justine van der Leun

New Yorker

— Ryu Spaeth, features editor, New York

What does it take for an innocent person to get out of prison? In the case of Kelly Harnett, something like a village. In this telling of her extraordinary journey to freedom, the journalist Justine van der Leun shows how Harnett, wrongfully convicted of a murder her boyfriend committed, taught herself the law on the notorious Rikers Island and proceeded to become what is known as a jailhouse lawyer, filing motions and appeals not only for herself but for other women prisoners. Harnett discovered that many of these incarcerated women were, like her, victims of abuse and that, like her, they would not have been in prison in the first place if they hadn’t been abused. With a little help from an unlikely roster of characters in the New York criminal-justice system — a sympathetic prosecutor, an admiring judge, Andrew Cuomo — Harnett won her release, opening the door for other abuse victims to do the same.
Kelly Harnett Had to Get Free After helping dozens of her fellow prisoners, a jailhouse lawyer finally found the means to help herself.
Photo: Brenda Ann Kenneally
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