Dr. Larry Golden is a founding member and Director of the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield, and current Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Legal Studies at UIS. Dr Golden was recently awarded the 2019 U of I Distinguished Service award for his political activism and work with the Illinois Innocence Project.
His passion for political science and social activism began during his years in undergrad at the University of New Hampshire. He was involved in numerous student protests and socio-political movements.
“I went down to the South, this is at the heart of the civil rights movement, to do voter registration. I became president of the student body. I went to the white house when LBJ was one of the presidents,” Golden said.
Golden credits his undergraduate years at New Hampshire for inspiring him to continue his education in the field of Political Science at the doctoral level. Which led him to become a founding faculty member of Sangamon State University.
“The U of NH is where I spent 4 years doing undergrad work, and that’s a very important time in my life. In terms of meeting people and in terms of preparing for my future direction,” Golden said.
In 2001, Golden, along with 2 professors from UIS, attended a statewide conference on the Innocence Movement, and founded the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, despite financial limitations and lack of legal expertise.
“We tried to figure out, is there something we could do. Most of the people there were lawyers, they were from law school and law firms. We were from this undergraduate university that didn’t have that capability,” Golden said.
The Illinois Innocence Project has worked to free many wrongly convicted citizens and helped them regain their freedom.
“We have had 12 exonerations since we started in 2001, that includes the three I mentioned between 2001 and 2008. Illinois has the second greatest number of exonerations out of any state in the Union,” Golden said.
UIS has the only undergraduate Innocence project in the entire nation, and works directly with the government to reform the criminal justice system itself.
“We [IIP] have been working on changing the rules, if you will, the practices of the way that convictions get accomplished. In order to minimize the number of wrongful convictions. And that has changed the culture from the perspective of the criminal justice system in this state, as well as throughout the nation,” Golden said.
Dr. Golden retired from full time teaching in 2004, but still volunteers his time to the Innocence Project, and is still as dedicated to the program’s mission as he was when it started.
“What greater reward, can someone like myself have, than given someone there life back, one person if I can do that, so that they can go out and continue to life as a free person, in our society after being wronged. At that point, it's almost like a virus. It's hard to walk away from doing that,” Golden said.
Dr. Golden’s passion for social justice and political activism played an instrumental role in the creation of one of the most impactful Innocence Programs in the United States, Helping give wrongfully convicted people their lives back.