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Innocent Prisoners…

“Excuse me, what did you just say?”

“I said I’m not guilty of the charge I was convicted of.”

“Wow, fantastic!  I’ve been in the prison system for 16 years and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about there being ‘innocent’ inmates.  I’ve never actually met one.  Let me shake your hand.  This is a great opportunity!”

Despite the sarcasm, I assured the Supervisor of Education at that federal prison that there are indeed innocent prisoners…far too many of us.

Herbert Murray

Herbert Murray

A New York Times on-line video post this date (June 5th, 2010) is an excellent example of the “Innocent Prisoners Dilemma.”  For those with 11:13 minutes to view the Herbert Murray video, I’m sure you’ll find it compelling.

This site will eventually be addressing a variety of types of innocent prisoners.  Certainly, most prisoners—at least that I’ve talked to over the past 20 years—either assert actual innocence, or far more often, have circumstances in their cases so mitigated that justice was the least part of the equation.  And then there are those with draconian sentences and others who have long served any sense of fitting the crime.

This site does not advocate the abolition of prisons (would they weren’t necessary).  There are definitely those in prison who well earned their berth.  People you wouldn’t wish in your community (and we, for that matter, in ours either).  In fact, there are certainly many out there who are major predators of the general population who need to be “incapacitated,” and I’m not referring to the nation’s ghettos—quite the opposite.

A federal Bureau of Prison’s rep once stated publicly that only 3% of the federal prison population were “violent offenders.”  So what are the other 97%?  I recall a comment by a Justice Department official on TV some years ago stating that they estimated that some 10,000 innocent people were locked up.  That being less than ½ of 1% of the total prisoners throughout the nation, I think they’re low-balling it.

As new technology such as DNA comes on line, and some of the aging prison population acquires consideration by concerned individuals, groups, and universities, more and more innocent inmates are coming to the attention of the public.  The Innocence Project has documented a total of 254 prisoners released thru DNA evidence.  They had served an average of 13 years before exoneration.  A total of 17 of them were on death row in various prisons awaiting execution.

DNA Exonerations

DNA Exonerations

In the meantime, the system—in particular rehab programs, lower security designations, release thru parole, etc.—are all highly dependent upon a prisoner’s institutional conduct and “acceptance of responsibility.”  Translation:  An admission of guilt (to begin with).

Parole boards (regarding a number of state prison systems) and prison staff in general—especially those holding some measure of control over placement in a prisoner’s life—don’t want to hear any declarations of innocence, mitigated or otherwise.

It complicates the JOB, and given their own psychological “framing,” (and where they came from, how they got there, etc.), it contradicts their “just world view” thus creating cognitive dissonance, and a lot of other psych-talk.  Bottom line:  You’re a bloody nuisance and they don’t believe you anyways.

In the case of the Supervisor of Education cited at the opening to this article, I guess I got the last laugh.  He was later arrested on site by the FBI and convicted of embezzling inmate education funds.  I wonder what his rap is…

               Dr. Publico

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