The Cost Of Jailing the Innocent

They are tallying the damage in Illinois:


Wrongful convictions of men and women for violent crimes in Illinois have cost taxpayers $214 million and have imprisoned innocent people for 926 years, according to a seven-month investigation by the Better Government Association and the Center on Wrongful Convictions. 

The joint investigation, which tracked exonerations from 1989 through 2010, also determined that while 85 people were wrongfully incarcerated, the actual perpetrators were on a collective crime spree that included 14 murders, 11 sexual assaults, 10 kidnappings and at least 62 other felonies... 

Moreover, the 97 felonies in that crime spree may be just a fraction of the total number of crimes committed by the actual perpetrators. The investigation found that the 85 exonerations left 35 murders, 11 rapes, and two murder-rapes with no identified perpetrators and thus no way to add up their accumulated crimes.

It's good that Illinois abolished the death penalty--sending 18 innocent men to death row should sober folks up. But I suspect that part of the problem is that, unless you're going after the Duke lacrosse team, there's no real disincentive, short of a moral conscience, to prosecuting innocent people.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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