From prison jumpsuit to business suit: Deskovic at work.
When we last met Peekskill native Jeffrey Deskovic, he’d never held a cellphone, gotten a driver’s license, or lived in his own apartment. Now, five and a half years later, he’s running the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, a not-for-profit with 10 employees (counting interns and volunteers) dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted.
Deskovic himself is an exoneree, freed in 2006, after 16 years in prison, when DNA evidence cleared him of rape and murder charges. Now, he’s using $1.5 million of the money he received from suing New York State, Westchester County, and Legal Aid to help overturn other wrongful convictions—even in cases where no DNA evidence is available. “It’s a lot harder,” he says. “It’s more boots-on-the-ground type of work. But it is doable.” The foundation, which operates out of a first-floor office on 72nd Street in Manhattan, even has a staff investigator.
Deskovic says the organization gets about 30 to 40 requests for help every week. “For every case, we ask ourselves two questions: Do we believe that they have a plausible claim of innocence based on something objective? Is there a clear investigative direction we can go in to challenge that conviction? If the answer to either question is no, we have to pass on the case.” The foundation also works on helping exonerees reintegrate into society after they’ve been released—finding housing, employment, education—even if the exoneree isn’t a client of the foundation.
Deskovic’s own reintegration is remarkable. He completed his BA at Mercy College and has completed coursework for a master’s degree at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. (There’s just that pesky thesis left, which is now on its second rewrite.) “I want to make the foundation sustainable so it outlives me,” he says. “Then, the dramatic experience I went through would count for something.” For more information, visit thejeffreydeskovicfoundationforjustice.org.