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.
However, 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.
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.