News 12.12.11

How Many Innocent People are in Prison?

A recent Mother Jones article attempts to answer this question with help from the Innocence Project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions and experts in the field.

Extrapolating from the 281 known DNA exonerations in the US since the late 1980s, a conservative


estimate is that 1 percent of the US prison population, approximately 20,000 people, are falsely convicted.

In fact, since the late 1980s there have been as many as 850 exonerations nationwide, according to

University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross, a leading researcher in the field. Many of them float under the radar, Gross says, unlike the highly publicized DNA exonerations.

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  1. Dana Risinger says:

    How does an individual help?

  2. Tim Timmy says:

    I’d really like a failure rate of the court system though. 97% of federal and 94% of state cases results in plea deals. If you were innocent and didn’t take your chance to go through a trial, you sitting in jail is really your fault at that point. Of the 3% federal and 6% state trials that end in a guilty verdict, when the accused is innocent, I think is the fail rate of the process. So take 1000 federal cases for instance. 30 of them go to trial. 970 cases should be excluded in calculating if the process is fair since they didn’t go through it till the end. Can I judge how good a car wash cleaned my car if I bail out when I only went through 3/4 of the process? So, how many of the 30 trials were found guilty, and of those, what percent was actually innocent? Measuring how many innocent people plead guilty seems to be more of a human fail rate than the justice system’s fail rate.

    • Mark Laswell says:
      Yes the majority of these cases do result in plea deals, you are correct. What does that really say though. If you give it just a little thought, opened your minds and thought not outside the box but right in the middle there of, you'd find that the astronomical conviction rates that are tied to a plea deals are fueled by a system offering people deals, so they can save the tax payers a dime or two on an extra couple of days in the court. These prosecutors are not interested in whether or not the person they just cut a deal with for the next however many years they'll be locked up or whether they are truly innocent or not. They are interested in numbers. Numbers that show the taxpayers their money is accomplishing something important. Like locking up the perceived bad guy for instance. I am currently 48 years of age with a 3rd degree felony burglary on my record. I did 23 months in the Utah department of corrections prison in Bluffdale, UT and yes, I'm going to say it loud and proud: I WAS WRONGFULLY CONVICTED AND DID NOT COMMIT THE CRIME!!! I was never even at the place, yet somehow or way my attorney convinced me it would be in my best interest to admit to a crime I never committed because the prosecution would go a lot easier on me. They were likely to get a conviction, yada... yada. He was right in one respect I only did just short of two years one way and the other I was looking at five years. What was it I did again? Oh, sure I'll just stick with the 2 year payment plan I guess. I was very subtlely told that if I didn't take the deal I'd be sorry. Either way, I was sorry. Sorry that the greatest country in the world has a legal system that's more concerned with meeting quotas and filling beds in prisons with people who plead guilty to something simply because they were told if they didn't they were really going to get it. True story and it's repeated daily, thousands of times a day in courts all over this great country of ours. Yup, everyday innocent people like myself are wrongfully accused and then tricked into convicting themselves because you just wait till dad gets home mister. It's a tragedy and I'd estimate the number to be much, much higher. We'd all be shocked if we really knew. Wake up people, this is my life I'm talking about here and my lawyers sitting next to me as I'm sentenced to 2 years in a state prison. What's my attorney got to say about all this? I'm not sure because right now it looks like he's trying to figure out where he and the prosecutor are headed for lunch today after I'm carted off in shackles for a crime I never committed, but who cares right, the numbers look good.
    • mini nikol says:
      This is incredibly ignorant. It is OK to pull somebody in for something they didn't do and harass them because "the system gave them a chance to fight"... No it is a crime. Kidnapping is a crime. Harassment is a crime. Wrongful imprisonment is a crime. Our legal system is guilty of the crimes it is sending people to jail for. The law has been broke by the people who make it and enforce it in this country of ours. Freedom is dead.

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