(Published - 4 March 2020}
University of the Western Cape Extraordinary Professor, and Director of the University of Missouri South African Education Program (UMSAEP), Rod Uphoff, has been selected for the 2020 Midwest Innocence Project’s Justice For The Innocent Award.
Professor Uphoff, an internationally renowned law academic and criminal justice lawyer, will receive the award together with Ellen Suni and Steve Weinberg. The award is presented to individuals in recognition of their exemplary advocacy and work on behalf of those who had been wrongfully convicted in the US.
As the Director of UMSAEP, Prof Uphoff spends six months at UWC and the other half of the year in Missouri to facilitate research, teaching and services exchange programmes between UWC and the University of Missouri (UM) – a partnership which has seen over 850 faculty exchanges since 1986. Among the many UWC staff who travelled to Missouri includes current UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, and his predecessor, Professor Brian O’Connell.
The UMSAEP project has empowered UWC staff and students to engage in matters of global importance in higher education meaningfully.
Prof Uphoff also teaches comparative criminal justice courses on campus, which allows students to learn about the US justice system and compare and contrast that system with the South African system. He said a highlight of the partnership is helping to set up a scholarship that has enabled 19 UWC law students to study at the University of Missouri’s School of Law and to earn their LLM degrees.
The award recognises Prof Uphoff’s contribution to the University of the Missouri Law Clinic – which joined forces the university’s Journalism School and the Midwest Innocence Project – to fight for the release of individuals who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced.
He said the MIP started small but he secured funding from the University of Missouri which enabled the project to expand its operations and become a successful Non-Governmental Organisation.
“It is always rewarding when you spend time and energy on a program and when it becomes so successful,” Prof Uphoff said. “[MIP] has led to the release of five defendants who were wrongfully convicted. They were released and are now free because of the work of the Project and the students”.
In an email to Prof Uphoff, Tricia Rojo Bushnell - Executive Director of the Midwest Innocence Project – said: “We are so grateful for your incredible work launching and sustaining MIP, in particular, your foresight to create a partnership with the UMKC and MU law schools and the MU Journalism school. Without you, we would not exist, let alone have helped as many people as we have. Your vision and work to bring it to reality have not only changed the lives of our clients but of scores of students who are changing our criminal justice system”.