While all Ohio residents who have been accused of committing a crime have a right to a fair trial, the system is not perfect. There are times when someone is wrongfully convicted and sent to jail or prison for a crime they did not commit because the jury believed they were guilty. With the story of the Central Park Five and their exonerations prevalent in the media, many are wondering how common these wrongful convictions really are.
The National Registry of Exonerations reported that since 1989, more than 2,265 people have been exonerated for crimes they did not commit. The total combined years they spent behind bars is a staggering 20,080. In the database that was created, more than half of those who have been exonerated have not been compensated for the time they spent in prison.
The report also breaks down some statistics regarding race and wrongful convictions. Black people make up 46% of exonerees but only 12% of the total population. Studies also show that black exonerees receive less compensation from the government when they are exonerated and tend to spend more years in prison before clearance and release.
According to The Washington Post, municipal and state governments have paid out close to $2.2 billion dollars between state statutes and lawsuits. Those who sue the government average close to $300,000 per year in prison while those who take the money given under state statutes receive only $69,000 per year behind bars. In some states, exonerees must give up their right to file a civil suit to receive payment or compensation.
Because the money rarely comes from the government organizations who are responsible for the wrongful convictions, the amount paid out is not likely to deter wrongful convictions in the future. Prosecutors are protected by absolute immunity and law enforcement officials are shielded by qualified immunity, even in cases where there was egregious misconduct.