About once a year, Florida makes national headlines for righting a wrongful conviction. In recent years alone, more than a dozen men have been exonerated, most serving decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit. Florida also leads America in the number of people sentenced to death, only to later be exonerated – 24 people in the past three decades.
Florida may not be a leader in many things, but we are when it comes to stealing lives. We must do better; we must reform our systems.
There is a cost to reformation, but the cost of wrongful conviction is much, much higher. Millions of dollars are spent on holding and caring for innocent inmates, as well as the restitution paid once innocence is proved. There is the mental anguish the wrongfully incarcerated suffer, not to mention that their earnings and social interactions will forever be impaired – it almost like being thrown into a time warp. Scarier still is the fact that wrongful convictions mean the true criminal remains at large.
As Circuit Judge Belvin Perry says, “the consequence of inaction is injustice.” Perry chaired the Florida Innocence Commission, which spent two years studying the issue. The group of experts made concrete suggestions for improving justice:
- Record suspect interviews so there is no question about technique used to solicit confessions.
- Get neutral parties to conduct photographic lineups to avoid investigators encouraging witnesses to choose certain suspect, subconsciously or otherwise.
- Implement stronger guidelines for relying on jailhouse snitches.
The reasons for fixing this are obvious and plentiful, yet politicians have dragged their feet. The wrongfully convicted, you see, are not a powerful lobby. They don’t cut campaign checks, and their stories rarely win votes. But this issue is important, both financially and morally. Encourage your legislator to follow the recommendations of the Innocence Commission.