by Perfecto Caparas
Professor Fran Watson, director of the Wrongful Conviction Clinic at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University
Pressenza Interviews with Professor Fran Watson, an award-winning clinical professor of law at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She founded and directs the Wrongful Conviction Clinic, a founding member of the Innocence Network. Professor Watson’s years of legal practice, relying on the science of DNA, resulted in the discharge of Darryl Pinkins and Roosevelt Glenn, among others. CBS News’s 48-hour program included her story in February 2017. Professor Watson was appointed by Indiana University’s Purdue University Office for Women and Student Affairs for her three decades of legal, legislative, and multilevel advocacy Wrongly Sentenced Prisons Known Indianapolis (IUPUI) was recognized with the Inspirational Faculty Woman Award on March 25, 2021.
Perfect caparas: What experience has led you to devote your life to fighting for wrongly convicted people?
Fran Watson: I grew up in the US in the 60s, a time of change. I graduated from high school in 1973. Because of the culture wars in the country, I wanted to change the world for the better. Social injustice was evident in America. What I did not understand until studying law was that the structure of the criminal justice system suffered greatly from racism and a lack of resources. My undergraduate studies included criminal justice, corrections, and social work. With that in mind, I got into the field of unlawful conviction litigation.
Pc: What hurdles did you face? How did you overcome it
FW: Litigation is hard work. Carrying people’s hopes for freedom is a burden that I accept. You overcome hurdles with hard work, focus, and the support of family and friends.
Pc: What are your observations and findings regarding the pillars of the US criminal justice system ie Law Enforcement, Prisons, Law Enforcement, Courts, and Community?
FW: Law enforcement is corrupt and militaristic. Police unions are strong and protect their members when those members are clearly guilty of wrongdoing. The courts are also suffering from funding needs, so they try to move cases through the system rather than focusing on the people.
Private prisons are terrible. The country should be ashamed that we are allowing companies to make money with inmates and their families in the now normal way.
Pc: What are the problems and challenges facing the US criminal justice system? What intervention measures need to be taken to address them?
FW: We should get rid of private prisons. Judges should have elections, not political appointments. Prosecutors and defense lawyers must be adequately funded. Re-entry opportunities must be addressed and carried out.
Pc: How responsive do you think legal training as a clinical law professor and civil rights advocate is to the problems and challenges of the criminal justice system? How about the legal profession? How quickly does it react to these problems and challenges? What reforms need to be carried out in both legal education and the legal profession?
FW: Legal education needs to focus more on lawyer training than the current legal focus. I believe the legal education indoctrinates students into respecting the existing law rather than questioning it. The legal profession has many noble endeavors through bar associations and similar organizations. But the needs of the poor and minorities remain unsatisfied.
Pc: What is your vision for our US criminal justice system? How can your vision be achieved?
FW: Sorry, but my vision is cloudy at the moment. I see the challenges ahead of me. Perhaps you are starting to get rid of private prisons and structure release programs?
Pc: What would you like to make as a contribution and legacy to the legal community and society in the broader sense?
FW: I comfort myself with the many clients I have represented over the years and knowing that they and their loved ones have appreciated the efforts on their behalf. I am also proud of the students who carry the lessons I shared with them and continue to use that knowledge to work for the legal needs of others.
About perfect caparas. Associate Director of Graduate Programs at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law where he is currently pursuing his Doctorate in Law (provided for purposes of proof of affiliation only and does not purport to be directly or directly affiliated with the institution or any of its affiliates represented indirectly). Has a Master of Laws in American Law for Foreign Lawyers (IU McKinney School of Law) and a Master of Laws in Human Rights (University of Hong Kong; Honors). Worked as a journalist for Ang Pahayagang Malaya, Manila Times, Philippine Post, Pinoy Gazette, UCANews and ISYU Newsmagazine. A lifetime member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.