Imagine spending your life in a cage, unable to wander outside unless you're under surveillance. The meals are the same week after week, social interaction is limited, and you only get to see family on certain days and times. For the more than 2.3 million Americans trapped in the U.S. prison system, this crippling isolation is the reality of everyday life. Serving time in prison is not easy under any circumstances, but it becomes an even harder pill to swallow when you know you're innocent of the crime you were convicted for.
While the American justice system remains one of the best in the world, it is by no means without its issues. Occasionally, the justice system fails and an innocent American receives no justice at all. In fact, 2015 marked the highest number of exonerations to date. A record 159 people were cleared in 2015 for crimes they did not commit. This startling number begs the question, how many innocent people are currently serving time for crimes they did not commit?
Can We Accurately Estimate The Number of Innocent Inmates?
Obtaining an exact number of wrongly convicted Americans is a difficult task that involves sifting through federal, state, and county court and prison systems. Even with all of the data that is retrievable, a number of conviction cases never go to trial leaving virtually no traceable records behind. It's estimated that approximately 95% of convictions in the U.S. are by plea bargain with no trial.
The only quantifiable data that can be gathered on wrongful convictions comes from exonerations and death penalty records. There have been a total of 1,962 nationwide exonerations since 1989. Additionally, it's believed that roughly 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death are later proven to be innocent.
Reaching an exact number for the number of wrongfully convicted citizens serving time, may be near impossible, but an accurate estimate is not out of reach. A study conducted by Ohio State University surveyed 188 judges, prosecuting attorneys, public defenders, sheriffs, and police chiefs. The survey asked respondents to estimate the prevalence of wrongful convictions in the United States.
The study found that 75% of respondents believed that more than 0%, but less than 1% of all convictions were wrongful convictions. If you multiply the 2.3 million prisoners trapped in the American justice system by .05%, then it's estimated that 11,500 of those prisoners are innocent. In Mississippi, that translates to roughly 93 Mississippians stuck in state and federal prisons who should not be there. This estimate can easily be translated to a year. Roughly 195,000 people are convicted and sent to prison each year. Alas, .05% of 195,000 equates to 9,750 wrongful convictions per year.
The estimates are horrifying. If 9,750 people are wrongfully convicted each year, but only 159 people were exonerated in 2015 and 2016, then less than 2% of innocent prisoners are able to clear their name. Fortunately enough, the state of Mississippi does offer restitution for exonerated citizens.
Restitution For Wrongful Convictions In Mississippi
In the state of Mississippi, wrongfully convicted citizens can receive $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment. Restitution is capped at $500,000 and compensation must be sought within three years after leaving prising. Unfortunately, the average time from conviction to exoneration is 13 years, meaning that many exonerated Americans will end up receiving under $50,000 a year in restitution.
In certain cases, the exoneration process can last up to a decade, which deters a number of innocent released prisoners from even pursuing exoneration. There is no doubt, the current restitution system is an injustice to those who were already unjustly imprisoned.
If you have been accused of a crime and need help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Mississippi, reach out to William Wayne Housley for help. He can assist you today with your case.