News 02.04.19

#BlackBehindBars: Sparking a conversation on the black wrongful conviction experience in the U.S.

By Alicia Maule

Rodney Roberts at 2018 Innocence Network Conference in Memphis, TN. Photo by Lacy Atkins.

This Black History Month, the Innocence Project is sharing the harsh reality of being black behind bars and the survival mechanisms innocent people employ to overcome being wrongfully convicted. From their very first interaction with the police, to being arrested, booked, charged, convicted, and sentenced, black people are discriminated against and disproportionately criminalized at every stage of the criminal justice system.

Related: March for Justice

The same trends that we witness at the front end of the system are also seen among black people who were exonerated of crimes they didn’t commit. Black exonerees face disparities at every point in the system from being more likely to be wrongly convicted to spending more time behind bars and once exonerated, receiving less compensation than white exonerees.

To be a black person in America is to be seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder and three times more likely to be wrongly convicted of sexual assault as compared to white people.

Quiz: What’s the cost of being black and innocent?

To be a black exoneree in America means:

Now that you have the facts, join #blackbehindbars on Twitter to see the impact wrongful convictions have on exonerees, families, and communities.


“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me … I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.”Troy Davis, Executed by the State of Georgia on Sept. 21, 2011

“We were branded ‘monsters’ and rapists, high profile New Yorkers called for our execution, and we lost a combined 33.5 years of our youth in prison.” —Yusef Salaam, Innocence Board Member and member of the Central Park Five 

Jabbar Collins’ family visiting him in prison.

“I was 21 years old when I was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. I spent the next 16 years of my life there, all while prosecutors hid crucial evidence and yet not one prosecutor who hid evidence was punished or disciplined. I ask you, how is this fair?” Jabbar Collins, exoneree

Rodney Reed

“People need to continue to organize, network, communicate. share your ideas and strategies and stay in contact.” —Rodney Reed, remains black behind bars on Texas’ Death Row


“Black people in the United States have never been given a presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. Their entire relationship to justice is not a standard of not guilty but one of not guilty yet.”

Karen Thompson, Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney


“I knew I was going to prison for something I didn’t do. I trusted in the justice system and it failed me.”

Marvin Anderson, Innocence Project Board Member and exoneree


“The system is designed to break you down mind, body, and soul. It’s up to you to stay focused and driven.”

Stefon Morant, exoneree


“In West Virginia, where I was locked up, all of the guards were white. White inmates got the best jobs and were given a level of trust that black inmates did not get. The way prison is currently structured, I found myself forced to practice not trusting anyone in prison. I practiced this until it became automatic.”

Kenneth Lawson, Co-Director Hawaii Innocence Project


“Being black in America is an honor that few people realize. An honor that signifies greatness throughout all these atrocious conditions we faced. We’re still here survivors standing strong. Being black in America.”

Leroy Harris, exoneree


To fight wrongful conviction, we must all take a stand against racial injustice. Sign the pledge.

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  1. Annisa Herbert says:

    I say it until I die, black people need to separate themselves from white people and other races. We have to avoid their media, their hospitals and schools. We must learn to love and treat each other better. We must stop lusting after the men and women of other races. We must learn to avoid them and their police force. They have proven to not be our allies and constantly plot our destruction with lies and nonsense! We need to start helping each other and stop agreeing with their system of law and order, because they use it in out destruction.

  2. Regina Addison says:

    I too am trying to get my innocent little brother out of prison for being accused of the murder of his friend that he helped by giving him a place to live . Now they have arrested him for his murder 4 months later with absolutely bogus stuff. No one has talked to the people my brother was with during the time of his murder . Not even his attorney. His attorney is court appointed because my brother was in the process of looking for employment after recently moving with me when the police pulled him over on his way to a job interview rather violently and arrested him for a warrant that my brother had no idea about. So my brother has been in Richmond city jail since May and his attorney has only been to see him one time and the investigator has been to see him once or twice and yet people are still confused at what is going on because they won’t go see him to talk about his case. His attorney called me and asked for $15,000 and said that it was OK with the bar association if he swapped over as a paid attorney. He proceeded to tell me that there will be a light at the end of that tunnel for 15,000. The justice system is corrupted and I don’t know how to really help my brother. I don’t have all this money that they are requiring from trying to take care of my family. His name is Maurice Addison. They are using what he did when he was 19 as a reason today. He did his time for that issue back at 19 he is now 36. I’d like to think he learned his lesson from his issues back then and I would like to say they did not include murder.

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