Rebecca Brown, the Director of Policy at the Innocence Project, was recently featured on H. Jack Miller’s “Down to Business” podcast to discuss mass incarceration, wrongful convictions and the Innocence Project’s procedures and goals. “We are an incarceration nation,” said Brown. “We have 2.3 million people behind bars and many millions more on probation or parole. We have five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population.”
On the podcast, Brown described some of the larger systemic problems that unfairly contribute to so many people getting wrapped up in the system, including cash bail and how it’s closely linked to innocent people pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.
“If people can’t make bail, they often plead guilty to avoid a harsher sentence, which can inevitably lead to wrongful convictions. Ten percent of the 356 people exonerated by DNA pled guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.”
She also informed the audience about other key factors that contribute to innocent people being wrongly prosecuted and imprisoned. She shed light on science-based best practices that can overhaul how criminal investigations are conducted. Brown stated:
When we see a wrongful conviction, we look at all the factors that contributed to that wrongful conviction. We then set about making policy changes to prevent those miscarriages of justice from occurring in the future . . . For instance, if you look at [exoneree] Malcolm Alexander’s case, he was convicted based on a single eyewitness identification. When Malcolm was convicted in Louisiana, there were no protocols in place to prevent misidentification from occurring at the police agency level. Just last week, a law passed in Louisiana that overhauled how police are to conduct lineups moving forward. It is based on a series of reforms that scientific researchers have identified to hopefully reduce misidentification. An example of one such reform is blind administration of lineups.
When asked about how it feels to see one of our clients released from prison, Brown explained:
It’s always bittersweet when someone gets out of prison – we think of what would’ve been and what could’ve been if this person hadn’t lost 20 years of their life. We speak to clients all the time who talk about the families they didn’t get to have or how they weren’t able to develop professionally. Many of our clients have never used a cellphone or a computer. Of course, when they are released, it’s a huge reason to celebrate—but it’s also a time to reflect on how much that person was wronged and what was taken away from them.