US Prisons: More Wrongfully Convicted People Than Ever
According to a new report by the National Registry of Exonerations, more wrongfully convicted people were exonerated last year than ever before, leading many to wonder just how many innocent people remain behind bars across the US.
According to the report, 87 people were found to be wrongfully convicted in 2013, the most ever in a single year. Half of those exoneration involved murder chargers wrongfully leveled against suspects. In one case, a man who had been sentenced to death had his entire conviction overturned. Seventeen percent of those who were wrongfully convicted had pled guilty to something they didn’t do so they didn’t have to face even harsher chargers with stiffer penalties.
According to the report, the rise in exonerations is directly attributed to prosecutors being more willing to review old cases. Since 1989, there have only been about 1,300 exonerations in the US.
While prosecutors being more open to revisiting past cases is a good step in the right direction, it begs the question, how many more people currently reside behind bars for something they did not do? How many other people were coerced into giving a guilty plea for a crime they didn’t commit to avoid a potentially longer sentence?
While “the highest numbers of exonerations ever” is great, that number is only 87, and 1,300 since 1989. That’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to the US prison system as a whole.
The US prison population sits at 2.4 million. That means more than one of every 100 American adults is currently in prison. That number has quadrupled since 1980 as a direct result of the drug war. Not only is the justice system sending more low-level, non-violent drug offenders to prison than ever before, they also receive longer prison sentences. More than 50 percent of the federal prison population are incarcerated for a drug offense while just 1 percent are in prison for homicide.
The next time a politician asks where to find government waste that we can cut to decrease federal spending, look no further than prisons. It costs the government $21,000 per year to house an inmate at a minimum-security prison and $33,000 per year for an inmate at a maximum-security prison. That’s a year’s salary per each of the 2.4 million inmates around the US.