NEW YORK (PIX11) — Since 1989 more than 3,000 people have been exonerated after spending more than a combined 28,000 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

The Innocence Project is helping those wrongfully convicted reclaim their lives. 

Co-founder Peter Neufeld explained how the development of DNA technology in the 1980s opened the door for the release of innocent people from prison. “It was very clear to us that this is going to be a very powerful tool to use to reopen old criminal cases,” Neufeld said.

“For years it was extremely difficult to reopen old convictions,” Neufeld said. “There was this doctrine in American jurisprudence called the ‘doctrine of finality’ which said once a jury has spoken and once you exhausted your direct appeal, you’re finished.”

The Innocence Project started in 1992 out of the back pocket of Neufeld and fellow attorney Barry Sheck. 

“Very quickly after we had our first exonerations, we were inundated with hundreds and hundreds of letters. Today we now get 2,000 letters a year from inmates claiming their innocence,” Neufeld explained. 

Neufeld said innocent people are convicted for several reasons, including a mistaken eyewitness, a lying jailhouse informant, the misapplication of forensic evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.