Wednesday, April 25, 2012

More Criminal Injustice

Next month, two more men will be released from prison, sentenced in 1983 for 99 years for a crime they didn't commit.

Raymond Jackson and James Curtis Williams are just the latest in an apparently growing string of wrongfully incarcerated citizens whose fate must cause us to call into question our assumptions about the criminal justice system - and those we are branding as criminal.

Today, one out of every 100 citizens in the United States is in prison and black Americans, though representing a little over 13% of the nation's population are more than 40% of our country's prison population. The impact is devastating on communities and on families. Not just devastating now, but devastating in it's rippling effect on the lives of children and neighborhoods where to have a family member who has encountered the criminal justice system is not an anomaly - it's the norm.

And yet, more and more, we are hearing of these exonerations: mostly men, mostly poor, who have spent decades behind bars for crimes they didn't commit. These two men represent nearly 30 men, exonerated in Dallas County alone, nearly 300 across the country should make us question the near $50 billion a year we spend operating prisons.

How many people languish in a prison cell who don't belong there? We don't know. We will never know. Like Tim Cole, some have died in prison. Many are more than reasonably sure that we've executed some who were innocent. But the stories of nearly 30 in Dallas County and almost 300 across the country tell us that there will be more...

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