For the last three years in a row, we have had some exciting news from the world of Wrongful Convictions and Criminal Justice Reform. 2016 saw yet another record high number of exonerations, a trend for the last three years. [You can read the study here]. If you don’t read the whole study, at least read this: it is likely that at least several thousand defendants have been falsely convicted of murder in the time period covered by the Registry, and—judging from the exonerations we have seen— about half of them were African Americans. The question I have now is, will 2017 be another record year?
2016 set another record for exonerations in the United States— that we know of so far in 25 states, the District of Columbia, federal courts, and Puerto Rico. This record continues a trend: the rate of exonerations has been increasing rapidly for several years.
We’re also seeing that DNA exoneration cases are decreasing in number as DNA is being used to keep a defendant from being convicted of a crime, whereas before, the DNA had to be used to show they were innocent after they had been wrongfully convicted. So this is progress. And it’s good.
“There is a white privilege in how our criminal justice system operates… we need to not only be aware of it, we need to take action. I myself advocate for reform.” – Obie Anthony (Exoneree after 17 years of wrongful conviction and incarceration).
Read more; Vox has a piece on this study worth reading here.
Researchers found that racial disparities disproportionately impacted black people across the three crimes they examined — murder, sexual assault and drug charges. Innocent blacks, for instance, were seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent whites and three-and-a-half times more likely to be convicted of sexual assault.
Maybe now people will start paying attention. You’re right; probably not. I don’t mean to be cynical, but the more I read and write about these topics the more I see the reality that most people just don’t want to be bothered with it. I’ll post a picture of BB-8 on Instagram and it will get 100 likes. Seconds later I’ll post a picture on Instagram of a wrongful conviction quotation or statistic and it will get 30 likes, if I’m lucky. Most people would rather be distracted than informed(?) I guess I can’t blame them.
Wrongful convictions expose our criminal justice system for what it is: a broken system that unfairly targets racial minorities and victimizes the dirt poor (of all ethnicities), fostering injustices the likes of which none of us should be comfortable acknowledging. I’m hoping for yet another record year of exonerations. For one, the more innocent people that can be freed from prison the better. Second, each exoneration exposes the system for yet another wrongful conviction, which ought to help increase awareness, and inform the public. With such comes hope.