The Staggering Number of Wrongful Convictions in the United States 1

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.

It’s to be expected that a judge would send a convicted criminal to prison. The length of that jail sentence depends upon the crime committed and whether or not the criminal was a repeat offender. The victims of the criminal would finally get a sense of relief knowing that justice had been served. But what happens when an alleged criminal gets convicted, but wrongfully so? Unfortunately, in the United States this is becoming an all-too common occurrence.

According to current estimates, of the 2.3 million prisoners in the United States, about 20,000 of them are serving jail sentences that they shouldn’t be serving. When a person is arrested and wrongfully committed, prosecutors call this “misapplied justice,” and it’s something that happens at a much higher rate for blacks than whites.

In 2015, the number of wrongful convictions hit an all-time high. That same year, 149 people who had been wrongfully convicted, were exonerated. In 2017, 139 exonerations took place, with a total of 2,161 exonerations between 1989 and 2017. On average, those who were exonerated had spent 15 years of their life in prison.

A majority of those innocent people spending time in jail had been convicted of murder, with five of them awaiting execution. Some of them, including children and those who were mentally handicapped, ended up being falsely incarcerated due to giving a false confession.

According to the Spodek Law Group, “The false confession scenario happens way too often. Some people give a false confession because they become tired of answering questions. They finally gave in and say what officers want to hear.”

Other reasons that wrongful convictions take place have to do with bad police work, prosecutors who hide evidence or encourage witnesses to commit perjury, and faulty eyewitness identification. Once a person is wrongfully convicted, it can be very difficult to get them out. The reason being there are so few resources available that allows the court system to go back and review cases of those who claim to have been wrongfully convicted.

Some nonprofit organizations, such as Centurion Ministries, the Deskovic Foundation, and the Innocence Project, specialize in investigating wrongful convictions. In certain types of wrongful convictions, such as rape and murder, these organizations often use DNA testing to prove a person’s innocence. The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989, and since then a total of 362 falsely incarcerated persons have been exonerated because of DNA testing.