News 02.29.08

1 in 100 Americans in prison; how many are innocent?

A new report released yesterday shows that an all-time high of 1% of Americans are in prison or jail today. The United States incarcerates a far higher percentage of the population than any other country on Earth, with China a distant second. The incarceration of 2.3 million people costs the states and federal government $55 billion a year, and growth has not slowed, according to the new report by the Pew Center on the States.

The stories of the 213 people exonerated by DNA testing after serving decades in prison suggest that there are many more wrongfully convicted people behind bars. Since biological evidence is available in less than 10% of all criminal cases, the airtight proof of DNA evidence is not available to overturn faulty convictions for the vast majority of prisoners. The causes of wrongful conviction affect 100% of criminal cases – not only those involving DNA.

Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, found in a 2004 study that 2.3% of death penalty convictions had been overturned because of evidence of innocence. He wrote in the Los Angeles Times last year that his research suggests that at least 1% of American prisoners may be wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project works to free these staggering numbers of wrongfully convicted people, but also to reform the system before it sends another innocent person to prison.

Click here to get involved in our work today

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Read more:

Washington Post:

New High In U.S. Prison Numbers

Pew Center on the States:

Pew Report Finds More than One in 100 Adults Behind Bars

Samuel Gross:

Weeding out the innocents

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