The cost of incarcerating the innocent
The mission of The National Registry of Exonerations is to provide comprehensive information on the exonerations of innocent criminal defendants in order to prevent future false convictions by learning from past errors.
But have we done just that?
Joining me on this episode of FairPlay and to speak about The Registry is Barbara O'Brien. Barbara is a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law, where she teaches classes in criminal law and procedure. She is currently the Editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, which “collects, analyzes and disseminates information about all known exonerations of innocent criminal defendants in the United States from 1989 to the present.” The Registry provides a virtual home for exoneration stories and also an accessible, searchable statistical database about the cases.
Barbara spoke about how the Registry started and evolved and has contributed to positively impacting many lives across America.
She differentiated between DNA evidence, jailhouse informants, false testimony, and witness tampering. She talked about prosecutorial misconduct, unfair judgements, bail bonds, the prison industry and how can we, if possible, and if ever be able to predict false convictions.
I asked her, why is it so easy to incarcerate someone wrongly in America, but so difficult to get the same individual honorably released?.
We also talked about the role of race in a fair and impartial jury selection and in the final outcome of most cases and punishments. I asked Barbara if the Registry has been successful in making police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges more sensitive to the problem of wrongful convictions and more willing to reconsider the guilt of defendants who have already been convicted when new evidence of innocence comes to light.
One of my suggestions to her was to implore the concept of developing an "Innocence List", to at least start collecting basic data on those individuals who are claiming to be innocent with clear evidence.
Barbara says "Exonerations need to be looked at like Catastrophic Events so they could be analyzed."
The question remains, have we learned enough to prevent future false convictions, have we learned enough of anything at all from our past errors?.
Find out on FairPlay.show