Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Record Number of Prisoners Were Exonerated Last Year

prison fence public domain
When you really break it down, the criminal justice system is the linchpin of a functional government. The government may have many different responsibilities, but their ability to catch criminals and punish them is the most important. In fact, if some libertarians are to be believed, if you were to shrink the government down to the smallest possible size, you would be left with nothing but the military, the police, and the courts.

And some countries like Costa Rica and Dominica don't even have a military. A government with the barest institutions run by a skeleton crew, would essentially consist of nothing more than the courts, the people who were elected to legislate the court's rules, and the police officers tasked with enforcing those rules. While most people would rather give the government more responsibilities and more staff, this is the government at its lowest common denominator.

So what happens if the government sucks at that job? What if they fill their prisons to the brim with nonviolent offenders, while losing the ability to catch real violent criminals? And worst of all, what if they're jailing an alarming number of innocent people?

It turns out, the latter of those issues may be a growing problem.
There are more people being wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit than ever before.
That’s according to the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations which released a report Thursday that documented 2014 as the highest year for proven-wrongful convictions of innocent people.
This record high reached 125 people proven innocent after wrongful conviction in 2014. Prior to that, 2013 was the highest year on record, at 91 wrongful convictions. This shows a disturbing and steady upward trend of police, court and prison collusion to lock up innocent people.
In Texas, investigators found 33 people falsely convicted of drug offenses, in Harris County alone, near Houston.
“Judging from known exonerations in 2014, the legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored: those without biological evidence or with no perpetrator who can be identified because in fact no crime was committed; cases with comparatively light sentences; and judgments based on guilty pleas by defendants who accepted plea bargains to avoid pre-trial detention and the risk of harsher punishment after trial,” the NRE report stated.
The number of exonerations is now 6 times higher than it was in 1989, which is significantly more than the growth of the US prison population. There were only a couple dozen of these cases in the late 80's, and now there are more than a hundred per year. You might think that this is due to the advent of DNA testing technologies, but that only accounts for a minority of these cases. In fact, DNA related exonerations have actually been declining since 2009.

What's not entirely clear though, is whether or not these cases indicate that our justice system is arresting more innocent people, or if they're just getting better at letting them go. Contrary to the NRE's claims, this fact is difficult to pin down.

What we do know is that there is a serious problem with innocent people confessing to crimes they didn't commit. Of the 125 people who were released last year, 47 had plead guilty to the crime, which is a substantial increase from previous years. This is likely due to police interrogation techniques which have a tendency to produce false confessions.

Either way, this may be the tip of the iceberg. Somehow I doubt that out of the millions of people who are trapped in our prison system, only a few hundred are innocent. If some estimates are true, then anywhere between 4.1% and 6% of our prisoners are innocent. There's something seriously wrong with our justice system; a system that I might add, is supposed to be the core of a functional government.

Delivered By The Daily Sheeple

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