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Current Awareness Tools on Wrongful Convictions
Perhaps the most fascinating way to understand the factors that contribute to wrongful convictions is to look at famous examples in today's media. From the Netflix hit Making a Murderer to the popular podcast Serial, Americans from all backgrounds are learning more about how pervasive and dangerous wrongful convictions are. To expand upon this current awareness, I suggest then looking to up-to-date statistics on the criminal (in)justice system as a whole via resources like TIME's report on wrongful convictions, The Sentencing Project's data on racial disparities in U.S. prisons, and The Prison Policy Initiative's 2017 overview of the criminal (in)justice system.
Wrongful Convictions in Popular Media
Making a Murderer
Via Netflix: "Filmed over a 10-year period, Steven Avery, a DNA exoneree who, while in the midst of exposing corruption in local law enforcement, finds himself the prime suspect in a grisly new crime. Viewers are taken inside a high-stakes criminal case where reputation is everything and things are never as they appear."
"A high-school senior named Hae Min Lee disappeared one day after school in 1999, in Baltimore County, Maryland. A month later, her body was found in a city park. She'd been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was sentenced to life in prison. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae's body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.
Sarah Koenig sorted through thousands of documents, listened to trial testimony and police interrogations, and talked to everyone she could find who remembered what happened between Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. She discovered that the trial covered up a far more complicated story than the jury – or the public – ever got to hear. The high school scene, the shifting statements to police, the prejudices, the sketchy alibis, the scant forensic evidence — all of it leads back to the most basic questions: How can you know a person’s character? How can you tell what they’re capable of? In Season One of Serial, she looks for answers."
"Three days after Christmas in 1978, Elizabeth Andes was one of the few students on Miami University’s Oxford campus. Most students were home for winter break, but Beth – a recent graduate – was in town packing up her apartment so she could move to Cincinnati for her first big job.
That day, she treated herself by buying a fancy pair of leather boots to celebrate her successes. But she never got to wear them.
Instead, her boyfriend, Bob Young, reported finding her lifeless body in the apartment they had shared during their last semester of college together.
Police and prosecutors considered the death an open-and-shut case, zeroing in immediately on Young. But Beth’s friends never thought things were quite so simple.
Through this podcast, The Enquirer will lay out its investigation into the cold case in hopes of finally figuring out who got it wrong nearly 40 years ago – police or the jury?"
"Actual innocence is a podcast that tells the story of people who served time for crimes they did not commit. Each episode will introduce an exonerated person and the story of how the criminal justice system failed them. Giving a voice to those who were once robbed of their liberty brings us closer to reform in the justice system… and closer to freedom and justice for the wrongly accused."
The Wrongly Convicted: Why More Falsely Accused People Are Being Exonerated Today Than Ever Before
"For the third year in a row the number of exonerations in the United States has hit a record high. A total of 166 wrongly convicted people whose convictions date as far back as 1964 were declared innocent in 2016, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations released Tuesday. On average, there are now over three exonerations per week—more than double the rate in 2011. The number of exonerations has generally increased since 1989, the first year in the National Registry’s database. There are 2,000 individual exonerations listed in the registry as of March 6..."
The Sentencing Project
"Founded in 1986, The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration. Our work includes the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns, and strategic advocacy for policy reform. As a result of The Sentencing Project’s research, publications, and advocacy, many people know that this country is the world’s leader in incarceration; that racial disparities pervade the criminal justice system; that over six million Americans can’t vote because of felony convictions; and that thousands of women and children have lost food stamps and cash assistance as the result of convictions for drug offenses."
The Prison Policy Initiative
For an overview of the U.S. prison system in general, The Prison Policy Initiative offers up-to-date information about the various groups of people incarcerated in the U.S.
"Wait, does the United States have 1.3 million or more than 2 million people in prison? Are most people in state and federal prisons locked up for drug offenses? Frustrating questions like these abound because our systems of confinement are so fragmented and controlled by various entities. There is a lot of interesting and valuable research out there, but varying definitions make it hard — for both people new to criminal justice and for experienced policy wonks — to get the big picture.
This report offers some much needed clarity by piecing together this country’s disparate systems of confinement. The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories. And we go deeper to provide further detail on why people are locked up in all of those different types of facilities."