As many people already know, black people face disparities at every part of the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, this does not exclude wrongful convictions.
A review by the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE) found that black people are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than white people. They are also three times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of sexual assault.
According to the Innocence Project, to be a black exoneree in America means:
- You are 222 of the 362 people proved innocent by DNA
- You are 84 of the 164 survivors of death row (Death Penalty Information Center)
- You spent an average of 10.7 years behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit vs. 7.4 for whites exonerees (National Registry of Exonerations)
The NRE’s review is based on 1,900 wrongful convictions from 1989 to 2016. 47 percent of cases involved exonerated black defendants.
“The causes we have identified run from inevitable consequences of patterns in crime and punishment to deliberate acts of racism,” wrote Mr. Gross and his fellow authors, Maurice Possley and Klara Stephens.
One such wrongful conviction case that was a clear result of racism was the “Central Park Five,” who now prefer to be called the “Exonerated Five”.
“We were branded ‘monsters’ and rapists, high profile New Yorkers called for our execution, and we lost a combined 33.5 years of our youth in prison.” Said Yusef Salaam, of the Exonerated Five. He now serves as a Board Member for the Innocence Project.
Misconduct, such as hiding evidence, tampering with witnesses, and perjury could also be contributing factors. Such wrongdoings were present in 76 percent of cases in which black murder defendants were wrongfully convicted, compared to in 63 percent of cases in which white murder defendants were wrongfully convicted.
It was also found that once exonerated, black people receive less compensation than white exonerees and it takes years longer for them to have their names cleared. Innocent black men in particular spend 10.7 years incarcerated before exoneration compared to 8 years for white men.
This racial discrepancy has costed tax payers $944 million– the amount spent on incarcerating black men and women who were later found to be innocent since 1989.
This is just the monetary cost. The cost to a wrongly convicted person’s family, to their community, and to society at large, said Klara Stephens, a research fellow at the NRE, is not “quantifiable by any measure.”
“Being black in America is an honor that few people realize. An honor that signifies greatness throughout all these atrocious conditions we faced. We’re still here survivors standing strong. Being black in America.” Said Leroy Harris, who was exonerated for robbery and sexual assault charges after spending 29 years behind bars.
“Black people in the United States have never been given a presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. Their entire relationship to justice is not a standard of not guilty but one of not guilty yet.” Said Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Karen Thompson.