Tag Archives: prisons

False Convictions

Researchers estimate the total number of felony convictions in the United States at nearly a million a year. The vast majority of those who are tried, convicted, and sent to prison are guilty, despite their claims to the contrary. But what percentage is actually innocent? A report released yesterday sheds some light on the issue.

According to a new archive compiled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, more than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years. As appalling as that statistic looks at first glance, less than 100 people a year are falsely accused. That’s a pretty good record, unless you were one of the unfortunate 2,000. In which case, you’d spend a lot of time in prison.

Eight hundred seventy-three of the exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each. Nine out of 10 of them are men and half are African-American. Nearly half of the 873 exonerations were homicide cases, including 101 death sentences. Over one-third of the cases were sexual assaults.

Not surprisingly, DNA evidence led to exoneration in nearly one-third of the 416 homicides and in nearly two-thirds of the 305 sexual assaults. It seems clear that without DNA, most of the exonerated individuals would still be serving time for crimes they didn’t commit.

So how did these innocent people end up in prison in the first place? The most common factor leading to false convictions was perjured testimony or false accusations. Mistaken eyewitness identification and false or misleading forensic evidence were the other major contributors. Defense lawyers, police officers, prosecutors, and judges all share some of the blame in whenever there is a miscarriage of justice. Far too often the rush to find a perpetrator outweighs the search for truth. And the consequences are devastating.

That’s why even one false conviction is one too many.

Illegal Immigration and The Prison Industry

One of the least reported stories regarding Arizona’s immigration legislation is how the law came into effect and who benefits most from its passage. Now, thanks to investigative reporting by Laura Sullivan and NPR, the facts have become public.

The “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” if upheld by the courts, requires police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof they entered the country legally. Theoretically, the law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison––and it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies.

According to the NPR report, last December Arizona state senator Russell Pearce met with a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. The group included state legislators, corporations and associations, such as Reynolds American Inc., Exxon/Mobil, the National Rifle Association, and Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

Pearce and the lobbyists wrote the above named bill in four days. Pearce then took it to the Arizona legislature. Of the thirty-six co-sponsors who signed on to the bill, two-thirds of them either attended the December meeting or were ALEC members.

Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months from prison lobbyists or prison companies. Two of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s top advisers, spokesman Paul Senseman and campaign manager Chuck Coughlin, are former lobbyists for private prison companies.

While it’s not illegal to have lobbyists write legislation, the NPR investigation reveals the close and very questionable ties Pearce, Brewer, and other legislators have to the corrections industry, which stands to make a huge profit if the courts uphold the law.

Supporters argue that the law is necessary to stem the tide of illegal immigration across the Mexican border. But after the NPR investigation, it’s hard not to view the law as a shallow and pernicious attempt by lobbyists and the Corrections Corporation of America to funnel huge profits to the prison industry by playing on the fears of Arizona residents.