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The Structural and Systemic Causes of Our Wrongful Conviction Problem

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

According to the Georgia Innocence Project, wrongful convictions are a deeply rooted problem in the United States, with an estimated 4-6% of people incarcerated in US prisons being actually innocent. Source

The causes of wrongful convictions are multifaceted and include issues such as eyewitness error, overzealous or unethical police and prosecutors, false and coerced confessions and improper interrogations, inappropriate use of jailhouse informants, ineffective assistance of counsel, forensic errors, incompetence, and fraud, and the adversarial system. Source

The Equal Justice Initiative has pointed out that the legacy of racial injustice in America has evolved into the widespread presumption that people of color are suspicious, dangerous, and criminal. Source

This insidious, implicit racial bias creates perceptions and presumptions that play out continuously in societal interactions with the criminal enforcement system and can manifest as the following actions directed toward Black and Brown people in America: Source

  • Formation of unwarranted suspicions in everyday situations

  • Inaccurate assumptions of criminal activity when there is none

  • Routine arrests based on weaker evidence than someone implicitly presumed innocent, harmless, or with access to power and influence

  • Rampant criminalization (with excessive sentences) of actions that disproportionately impact Black and Brown people

  • Erroneously, unfairly, unjustly, and/or inequitably prosecuting, convicting, imprisoning, keeping imprisoned, and controlling upon re-entry

The systemic nature of the overall failure is evident in the fact that the current criminal justice system is designed to punish rather than rehabilitate, and it disproportionately affects people of color. To find solutions to our wrongful conviction problem, we must dig deeper into these structural and systemic causes and work towards creating a more equitable and just society. Source

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