Sunday, 14 September 2008

Wrongful Incarcerations - Punishment Beyond the Crime

September 11, 2008 at 7:45 pm

This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject for Criminal Justice Schools. She invites your feedback at

“You do the crime, you do the time”, it’s a saying you’ve heard more than once. But what if you had to do the time for a crime you didn’t commit? How would you feel if you were imprisoned for years when in your heart you knew that you were innocent? And if it’s death row that you’ve been assigned, how would you sleep at night knowing that there’s a high probability that you’ll meet your creator before justice is met?

Far too many American citizens are wrongfully incarcerated and facing the bleak prospects of life behind bars or a date with the wrong side of a lethal injection.Most convictions are based on circumstantial evidence and confessions which are produced because of stress, force, the fear of torture, the need to just end the ordeal, trickery, misunderstandings, the influence of narcotic substances or alcohol and mental illnesses. Exonerations are largely based on DNA evidence, thanks to the huge advances that science and technology have made in the years since these individuals were convicted and incarcerated.

But even when the ruling is overturned and the exonerations are upheld, the sad truth is that not even half the number of states in the USA have laws in place that allow compensation to be provided to people who have been wrongly accused, convicted and incarcerated of crimes they did not commit. Rather than take measures to right a wrong, the government is forcing these victims to file suits if they so desire some form of monetary damages to be awarded - they have to fight for both the right to have their dignity and pride publicly restored and for a reasonable amount that will help rebuild the life that was torn down by the courts and the prison walls.

Florida, which has the highest number of wrongful incarcerations, recently passed the Wrongful Incarceration Act which allows for a compensation of $50,000 for each year spent in prison through a miscarriage of justice. But it’s only when you dig deeper that the sordid facts behind this law come to light and you realize that the law is a travesty of justice.

For example, those with prior felony convictions, even non-violent offenders, are not eligible to claim this money, even though they’ve served time for a crime they did not commit. And to top this, the individual who’s been released must petition the original court that sentenced him or her to recognize that they were wrongfully sentenced. All in all, it’s another parody of a law that does not see justice, even deferred, served.

The fact that many exonerated individuals have spent a good portion of their lives on death row should speak volumes for the argument that capital punishment must be abolished; how do you provide restitution to a person who is no longer alive?

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