Capital Punishment, Death Row, DNA Testing, Entertainment, General ramblings, George Bush, Life, Movies, Thoughts

Review: After Innocence

After Innocence easily figures in my list of Top Documentaries. Instead of focusing on what a jail inmate goes through, this movie bring out the human in people who had been wrongly convicted and spent the prime years of their lives behind bars. The following post echoes some of my thoughts regarding the documentary and the prison system in the US in general.

DNA testing helped many of these people in getting their sentences overturned. So many of them were on death row for more than 20 years. Several theories have been proposed in this documentary, that reveal the injustice that’s being meted out in the United States. For example- There is this case where the jail officers weren’t even interested if the inmate was innocent or not. In fact, even after the DNA testing revealed that he had been wrongly accused of raping a woman, the prosecutors did all that they could to prevent his case from coming back for trial. When it becomes a war of ego, then we need to realize that they system is failing. After a prolonged struggle of more than 22 years behind the bars, (out of which the last four years were spent even though the officers knew that he’s innocent), the man was finally freed to go home…but without any sort of remuneration. Most of these people are released without any kind of system that will help them survive in the real world; no job, no money, no more skills and unfortunately, for many of them, by the time they’re released, they don’t even have a family.

A man was sentenced to rigorous punishment and kept in solitary confinement for 23 years, before he was released. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrors he must have gone through.

In another case, a man was leaving a liquor store carrying a 6 pack of beer and he made the mistake of carrying half an ounce of marijuana in his jeans pocket. The police caught him and questioned him. The man turned himself in thinking that he will have to fight his battle relating to marijuana. Little did he know that he would be slapped with charged of rape and sodomy. He lost his faith in the justice system and ended up spending all his youth in jail.

Also, a Highway Patrol Officer put his son behind bars even though he knew that the charges against his son were not true. You see, he had faith in the judiciary. He thought that his son would emerge from the trial unscathed. But it never happened.

The documentary further talks about the medical “treatment” that they received in jail, where all that the doctors were interested in doing was making them confess to a crime they hadn’t even committed. The doctors were of the opinion that if they could achieve this, then it meant that the inmate was no longer in a ‘denial mode’ and was coming in terms with his crime. He gets institutionalized!

This article talks about a woman who did receive tremendous help from the job program that helped him turn from a tax burden to a tax payer.

There are cases where the DNA of the real perpetrator are never entered into the DNA bank. I keep reading reports regarding the jails in the US…how crowded they are, and how much it costs the tax payer to support them. What if thousands of these people, at least the ones whose DNA tests are conclusive, be freed? Wouldn’t that help in solving the above mentioned problems? Stiff jail sentences have also been criticized by many for these crowding problems. Research shows that within 13 years, 54 percent of them will return to prison for new crimes. This also causes shortage of beds and cells. Each cell approximately takes about $100,000 to build; each inmate costs about $25,000 per year.

Are the long jail sentences justified? This article states that:

Prison campaigners claim short sentences served in overcrowding jails are pointless as they do nothing to tackle offending behaviour among criminals but clog up the system, preventing effective rehabilitation work for more serious offenders.

HoweverBureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners Under Sentence of Death Trends Chart_1196206924593, critics reaction is that this would force judges to dish out sentences depending upon the availability of resources in a particular jail instead of focusing on the seriousness of the crime. Which is also true. It’s difficult for me to take any one side on this issue.

The prison population in the US has risen eight fold since the ’80s with little effect on the crime statistics but at a great cost to the tax payers and society. The report recommends the reduction of custody, shorter sentences and parole terms, alternate punishments. This is in stark opposition to Dubya’s laws that propogate long sentence terms and stricter prison terms. How else can you justify this chart? The average time on death row prior to execution is about 10.26 years. Texas leads nation in the number of executions since death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Texas, California, and Florida have the largest death row populations. Other statistics regarding Capital Punishment can be found from this page. Probably Bush needs to learn something from the Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, who fought tooth and nail to abolish the capital sentence in his state on the ground that there is no way that he would continue it because it’s “fraught with error”. This page by Amnesty International reveals such shocking information about the Texas Justice System or the lack of it.

Related Links:

FBI’s Forensic Tool Full of Holes– Lee Wayne Hunt is one of hundreds of defendants whose convictions are in question now that FBI forensic evidence has been discredited.

Justice Won’t Allow Alabama death row inmate’s challenge using DNA sentence

Wrongly convicted Walk Away with Scars


15 thoughts on “Review: After Innocence

  1. @lallo, Blockbuster might have it because this documentary won a nomination for the Oscars in 2005. Your other DVD store Videotron should also have a copy.

    Btw, why don’t you give Netflix a trial? You can go for the 15 day free trial…they have all sorts of plans.

  2. Ok.. I will check with them..thanks
    Now, I dont know much about Netflix..I mean I know that u can have online rentals and stuff, but Iam bit jittery in using all this as Iam very lazy in stuff like returning dvd’s by post..I mean most of the times I get late in even returning dvd’s rented from a retail store which is 3-5 min walking distance from my home..who will have the time to go to postoffice and post the dvd’s back eevry week..or is it simpler than that?

  3. @lallo,

    Well, don’t you have an outgoing mailbox in your apartment complex/house? I just put it in the outgoing mail box and the post man picks it up when he comes to deliver my mail. So, I don’t need to travel at all 🙂

  4. I once created a training program about corrections system in US. Overcrowding was a major problem. But this is a problem in India as well. As for punishing the innocent, US laws they are still lenient (compared to those in India) as burden of guilt lies with the State instead of me proving my innocence. Perhaps that is what led O. J. Simpson scott free with his battery of lawyers.

    In India, undertrials are worse off. There are common cases, innocent people jailed for 14 years on mere offence of stealing a scooter. If his guilt had been proven, he would have served his sentence by now and been a free man. Thats how it is, I am now reminded to write about this while writing this comment. This subject is v close to my heart.

  5. @Poonam,

    //As for punishing the innocent, US laws they are still lenient (compared to those in India) as burden of guilt lies with the State instead of me proving my innocence.

    In most cases, it’s like that in India too. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’. But I wouldn’t say that the US laws are lenient. The number of people who are executed each year is appaling. Also, I couldn’t find any one ruling regarding the solitary confinement procedure in the US. This documentary revealed the story of a man who was kept in solitary confinement for 23 years!! In India, the max. limit is 3 months, that too if the total imprisonment time exceeds one year.

    //There are common cases, innocent people jailed for 14 years on mere offence of stealing a scooter.

    Yes…I agree completely. The prison conditions are inhuman too. Nobody cares one bit.

  6. Hey Ruhi, one more thing..when you talk about outgoing mailbox and stuff, do I still need to buy postal tickets and big envelopes to send the dvd’s back or when they send the dvd’s, they send with mailback envelopes? Iam sorry for talking like a retard here, but my problem is I hardly use postal services here…I do eevrything online or on phone..
    Anyways, I will check that right now from my office
    What a day in office today!!!! Spent half of the time blogging…

  7. @lallo,

    No you’re not talking like a retard. It’s a perfectly legitimate question. you don’t need to buy postal stamps or any kind of envelope. The CD comes in an envelope that is to be used. Plus, the shipping is paid by Netflix.

    Even I totally dislike anything that has to do with me going to the post office. So, I can perfectly understand your problem.

  8. Ok thanks a lot..I just realized that 9 out of 11 comments of this post were spent on talking abt this stuff rather than the documentary or the prisoners…
    I always hijack your discussions with my own thing…:)

  9. Ruhi, perhaps lenient laws was wrong term!

    However, I maintain that US laws are better formulated to prevent the innocent. For example, they read you rights before arrest. They have to careful about arrest and house search for they can be sued on grounds of tresspassing and infringing privacy. In India, it is unthinkable. They treat you like criminal for a trivial offence even before you are proven guilty. There is no enforced right (though think it is in law) to even call for your lawyer. Our law enforcement can be very corrupt and malicious when it comes to it. Encounter specialists can flourish more here than in US. I say this I have recorded the struggle of law enforcement officers to prove the guilt of an known offender. Had conducted several interviews with US officers while creating a 6-module training program for them.

    Having said that, any system cant be 100% foolproof. Innocents do suffer, and corrupt officers are there too. I sa

  10. @Poonam,

    Yes, I agree. People here are generally much more careful with the rules and the regulations.

    //They treat you like criminal for a trivial offence even before you are proven guilty.

    Yes, that shouldn’t be this way, unfortunately. Everyone is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. But the Indian judicial system sucks.

    // I say this I have recorded the struggle of law enforcement officers to prove the guilt of an known offender. Had conducted several interviews with US officers while creating a 6-module training program for them.

    Wow..that must have been quite an unique experience. What was this in relation to? Are/were you a law student by any chance?

  11. I am an Instruction Designer. I designed a training program on few modules of cri minal justice program for a US university. These officials were SMEs (subject matter experts) for the program. You need to have a lot of dialogue and exchange of info with SME to create your program. 🙂

    Search instruction designer in case term is new for you. It is for Indians. 🙂

    Ruhi: Yes, the term is indeed new to me. Sounds like a very interesting job. There is lots of scope to do all sorts of things. 🙂

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