Tiffany Stevens, special counsel at the McCarter & English law firm in Hartford, is a real estate and corporate attorney. Before graduating from UConn Law School in 2003, she attended Villanova, majoring in political science and English.
“I kind of struggled with the idea of whether to go to law school or whether to get involved in government,” said Stevens, born in 1975.
She ended up doing both.
As co-founder of the Connecticut Innocence Fund, Stevens is in the business of raising money for wrongly convicted and exonerated state inmates so they can better transition to society. The money is actually a bridge loan, repaid to the fund, after the exonerated inmates are awarded damages from the state. The funds are normally handled by the exonerated person’s lawyer, which ensures that the Innocence Fund gets reimbursed.
Founded in 2011, the Innocence Fund is the only one of its kind in the nation. The Connecticut Bar Foundation invests the money, currently about $60,000. Community Partners in Action, a Hartford-based program that serves ex-offenders who re-enter society, distributes the loans. The money is disbursed in small increments — anywhere from $700 to $1,200 — to pay for such things as rent, transportation, food and health care.
Stevens and her colleagues would like to see the Innocence Fund concept duplicated across the country. She has received inquiries from Innocence Project representatives at several conferences.
Besides the money, Stevens said the key to the program is providing a support system for the exonerated to navigate their new normal. Each person who receives funds is assigned a mentor and there is a team of volunteers to assist with finances, job-training and life skills.