By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
October 2, 2023, marked the Tenth Annual Wrongful Conviction Day, a global initiative to raise awareness about the pervasive issue of wrongful convictions and its profound impact on innocent individuals and their families.
Founded by the Innocence Network, a collective of organizations dedicated to offering pro-bono legal and investigative services for those seeking exoneration, Wrongful Conviction Day aims to rectify the root causes of these miscarriages of justice while also providing support to the exonerated as they reintegrate into society.
Since its inception in 1989, over 3,320 wrongful convictions have been unearthed nationwide, resulting in a staggering cumulative loss of 29,500 years for those unjustly incarcerated. Today, it remains impossible to ascertain the exact number of innocent individuals still languishing behind bars. However, experts estimate that between 2% and 5% of the nearly 2 million incarcerated in the U.S. are victims of wrongful convictions, indicating that anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people are presently suffering this grave injustice.
Recent studies show a 70% increase in wrongful convictions in five years. Analysis of those cases showed race is a significant influence in wrongful convictions.
“Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 2022” examined 3,200 innocent people exonerated in the U.S. since 1989. The authors concluded that Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be wrongfully convicted of severe crimes. This applies to all significant crimes except white-collar crime.
White homicide suspects are roughly twice as likely to be wrongfully convicted. Black people are eight times more likely to be wrongfully convicted for sexual assault than white people.
Drug offenses show the most significant racial differences. African Americans are 19 times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes. Wrongfully convicted Black persons serve harsher sentences than innocent white people in all crime categories.
Organizers at The Innocence Network noted that this Wrongful Conviction Day is a rallying call to educate and disseminate knowledge about this pressing issue. The Innocence Network, a loose coalition of independent innocence organizations, has remained at the forefront of the battle, working tirelessly to combat wrongful convictions globally and advocate for systemic reform in the criminal legal system.
While most Network members focus on providing legal representation for the wrongfully convicted, a select few are exclusively dedicated to aiding and assisting those exonerated, helping them transition back into society.
As the Tenth Annual Wrongful Conviction Day unfolds, the Network said they are urging individuals worldwide to join the cause, advocating for justice, and supporting the fight against wrongful convictions, ultimately striving to ensure that every person receives the fair and just treatment they deserve under the law.
“The number of innocent Americans in prison or jail is disturbing,” said NBA coaching legend Doc Rivers, an advocate of the Innocent Project. “Our system fails too many of us, and any person who has been wrongfully convicted deserves justice.”