Justice for the Wrongly Convicted

By Kristen Johnson

The criminal “justice” system makes things likede innocent versus guilty seem so simple. Somebody is accused, they are tried in court, and a jury of their peers finds them guilty. They go off to prison, sometimes to death row, and all is well. But what if the “guilty” party isn’t so guilty after all? What happens when we find a mistake has been made?

After Innocence is an absolutely heartbreaking, accurate, documentary based on the lives of several convicted men who are subsequently found innocent of their crimes – most of them literally decades after the fact. How on earth can this be so? How can we condemn someone to die, lock them away in solitary confinement for more than two decades in some cases, and then somehow right that wrong? Incredibly, in most cases, there isn’t any “righting” of the wrong. The wrongfully convicted are usually not entitled to any kind of compensation – not even an apology from the courts. In addition, even though they have been completely exonerated, they are oftentimes not even entitled to having their records expunged! They are literally handed enough money for bus fare and off they go – their career and family formative years stripped from them, with no job or education, nothing. And, all for something they didn’t do in the first place!

Get ready to be shocked, to cry, and to be completely outraged. Get ready to join me in the fight against the death penalty, because literally hundreds of people have been exonerated from death penalty crimes with help from The Innocence Project. If the system worked quicker, those innocent men would have been put to death with tax payer dollars.

The thing that most completely frustrated and angered me was the statistic that a whopping 78% of wrongful convictions are the result of misidentification.

Apparently, when we are under huge stress, we can’t remember what people look like. Even more frustrating is that nobody is doing anything to stop these misidentifications. If they are intentionally misleading, why aren’t the accusers punished? If they are unintentionally misleading, why aren’t we doing a better job at assisting trauma victims or identifying the correct perpetrator?

In addition, the real heartbreak comes after these men have been exonerated. People still fear them – even though they’ve done nothing wrong. They don’t know what to do for work or how to reintegrate into society – even though they’ve done nothing wrong. Sometimes they get counseling, and it certainly helps. (Watching these men forgive their accusers and prosecutors over and over again will lead you right to tears.) But, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of assisting the wrongly convicted to reintegrate into society, given that, again, they haven’t done anything wrong?!?

Luckily, we can help, even if just a little bit. For starters, we can continue to lobby our leaders to fight against capital punishment. (Sadly, my home state of California recently did not pass legislation to ban it in my state. My fellow citizens disappoint me.) We can also make donations to The Innocence Project – definitely a worthy project. And, we can certainly help the wrongly convicted in their readjustment after incarceration with a donation and support to LAEP:

This nationwide Program was created to address the on-going injustices facing the exonerated and to provide services and resources to help the survivors of wrongful conviction re-enter society and rebuild their lives. 

The exonerated face challenges in virtually every aspect of life – employment, housing, financial resources, support systems, and access to medical, psychological and dental care. A convicted person upon release is provided social services that do not exist formally for the exonerated. LAEP, a non-profit project, was created to address this lack of services.

For more information or to make a donation, contact:  www.exonerated.org (After Innocence)

Special thanks go to The Innocence Project and to LAEP for the amazing and tireless work they do on behalf of the wrongfully convicted. Special thanks should also go to the men and women who work tirelessly on trying to overturn the death penalty nationwide, a system that is grossly immoral.

1 John 4:18 (NRSV): There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of: stocksnap.io

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