California Spent $280 Million On Wrongful Convictions

A three-year study of wrongful conviction cases in California’s criminal justice system found that their cost to the taxpayer amounted to an estimated $282 million.

The research, conducted by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law, uncovered 692 wrongful convictions for felonies between 1989 and 2012, according to The Washington Post.

Those wrongfully convicted spent an average of 4.5 years behind bars, but several were locked up for considerably longer.

Fifty-eight people in the cases surveyed spent more than 10 years in prison, including Kash Delano Register, who remained incarcerated for 34 years. Defendants wrongfully convicted in the cases examined spent 2,346 years in prison.

Given that California’s justice system convicts around 200,000 felons annually, it may be claimed that 692 wrongful convictions “reflects an acceptable rate of error,” the report noted, according to The Washington Post. “We reject the proposition that an acceptable rate of error can apply to proceedings that impact people’s lives in the way that criminal prosecution can … Just as with airline safety and medical mistakes, the acceptable rate of error is zero and that should be the goal.”

The calculations in the study did not just include legal settlements paid to those wrongly sent to prison. It also covered unnecessary costs of putting them on trial, incarcerating them and carrying out appeals.

“I didn’t think anyone was going to be interested,” Rebecca Silbert, one of the study’s authors, told The Washington Post. “For so many years, criminal justice and the ways it doesn’t function well was thought of as someone else’s problem.”

The problem of wrongful convictions is not confined to California. In 2015, Texas led the way with 54 exonerations, according to the Express News.

A report by the National Registry of Exonerations stated that 2015 produced a record number, with 149 nationwide.

Conviction integrity units, set up to review criminal cases for wrongful convictions, cover jurisdictions in which only 15 percent of the population lives.

In California, the costs of wrongful convictions are certainly more than $282 million. The study uncovered only 85 of the more than 200 cases of wrongful conviction linked to LAPD's Rampart corruption scandal of the 1990s, and noted that several counties made it difficult to access records.

Sources: The Washington Post, Express-News / Photo credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times

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