Alert: Innocent People are in Prison (even Death Row!)

Well, our criminal justice system is not flawless. According to statisticians, a little over four percent of those sent to death row are innocent. In another unsurprising turn of events, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s claim that courts are correct “99.973 percent” of the time is, well, wrong.

This specific study focused on death row. Death row presents a unique situation in terms of guilt and innocence. In around ninety-three percent of criminal cases, plea bargains are reached before a court even has to render a sentence. But death row involves much more time examining a case. Death row trials involve a bifurcated trial process. Death row trials often are subject to years and years of appeals. And even after all of this, 4.1 percent of death row inmates are most likely innocent.

The exception, the authors argue, is death penalty cases. Here, matters of guilt and innocence are examined in detail, often for decades after sentencing. Even though these cases account for less than 0.1 percent of the prison sentences in the US, 12 percent of the individuals who are exonerated after conviction were sentenced to death. So if we’re ever to have an accurate measure of the rates of erroneous convictions, this is the place.

The authors also note that even when a death row inmate is exonerated, his sentence is most likely converted to one of life in prison. This means that many who are exonerated will often end up serving the remainder of their lives behind bars. While the state will not directly put them to death, these convicted will die under its watch. These are the most likely innocent individuals that the study did not reach. Thus, the 4.1 percent number might in actuality be lower.

Read the original researchers’ paper at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Thanks to John Timmer of Ars Technica for the find.

Danny Lyon’s Early Photographs (’62-’64) Of The Civil Rights Movement On Show in Arizona

Prison Photography

Civl Rights Portfolio (01)-web

Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the passage of The Civil Rights Act, the landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Danny Lyon was the first staff photographer — between 1962 and 1964 — for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lyon would go on to make some of the most important bodies of work about the American condition (The Bikeriders; Conversations With The Dead) and as such his very early work as a very young man is often overlooked.

The Etherton Gallery’s exhibition ‘Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement’ opened on Saturday and shows 50 silver gelatin prints from Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama; Albany, Georgia; and Danville, Virginia. We see images of student protests and mobilization against racism,  lunch counter sit-ins, student beatings, tear gassings, the…

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The Annals Of Prison Abuse

Prison Photography

May 4th, 2009. 9:19pm: Guards pushed down on Messier’s back, pressing his chest toward his knees, “suitcasing” him, a dangerous tactic banned in prisons. Image courtesy of Boston Globe.

The title of this post makes it sound like I’ll be making a habit of recording these stories of abuse. I will not — there are too many.

The title of this post is also the slightest of variations on the title of a post I published yesterday. Again, I want to reiterate that episodes of abuse (particularly behind closed prison gates) are not irregular. I simply don’t have the time to catalogue them all.

This week, two particularly glaring cases of state violence inside prisons were reported. The first is a return to a 2009 murder by Massachusetts prison guards. The second, a prison doctor in California sterilising female prisoners without consent.


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Prison inmates in California can now marry same-sex partners

The Prison Enquirer

From the article: “Effective immediately, all institutions must accept and process applications for a same sex marriage between an inmate and a non-incarcerated person in the community, in the same manner as they do marriages between opposite sex couples,” M.D. Stainer, director of the Division of Adult Institutions, stated in the memo.”

Gay inmates, however, cannot marry each other.
Read more here.

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Program enabling Pennsylvania inmates to apologize to victims has more letters than recipients

The Prison Enquirer

In this program (facilitated by the DOC and the Office of Victim Advocates), inmates can write a letter of apology to their victim.  It is one way communication with no direct interaction.

This. Is. Awesome.

Read more here.

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Inmate Suicides in South Carolina Prisons

The Prison Enquirer

I think Castro has prompted a lot of interest in inmate suicide in general.  This article discusses suicide in SC prisons.  Since 2000, SC experienced 38 suicides.  In the same time period, 24 inmates were the victims of homicides.  The homicide number seems a bit high to me, because we definitely have a higher suicide to homicide ratio in Ohio.

Read more about SC prison suicides here.

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California prison hunger strike called off

The Prison Enquirer

From the article: “Inmates in several prisons were demanding an end to long-term solitary confinement and a halt to what is known as the “debriefing” policy, in which inmates are required to provide information on prison gangs to get out of solitary.”

Not sure how to feel about this.  On the one hand, I don’t support hunger strikes and I definitely don’t want inmates to endanger their lives.  I also think that giving in to the hunger striker demands (as we have done in Ohio) encourages people to hunger strike and perpetuates the problem.

On the other hand, kind of feel bad for the inmates that they fought the system…and lost.

Read more here.

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