Investing in Justice

This may not be stimulus spending, but Ginny Sloan makes the case that the federal government needs to stimulate justice by investing in criminal justice reforms. Underfunded public defender offices, inadequate crime labs, and untrained police officers all contribute to wrongful convictions. And wrongful convictions are enormously costly.

Wrongful convictions are tragic for all involved, and they are expensive. Taxpayers pay for police investigations and criminal prosecutions that ensnare the wrong person. They pay the costs of incarcerating that person, and they may face substantial damages in wrongful conviction civil suits. All the while, the actual perpetrator is still on the street, able to prey on others.

Not to mention the economic loss society incurs when it incarcerates innocent people who could be working, supporting their families, contributing to the economy, and paying taxes. As Sloan writes: [more ...]

We can proceed as we have in the past, paying out after-the-fact to clean up the mess of an erroneous conviction, or we can invest the time and effort now to prevent these mistakes in the first place.

It's time to follow the latter course.

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    Half the story... (none / 0) (#1)
    by diogenes on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 10:36:07 PM EST
    Tragic to ensnare the wrong person, but I've seen many inmates who readily admit to committing ten crimes for which they were never caught/arrested although they of course are innocent of the one for which they were convicted.  Imprisoning the wrong man often gets a criminal off the streets since people with clean records who are falsely accused usually don't get charged/get plea bargains/get probation and don't end up in state prison.
    It's fine to support high-level beyond the reasonable doubt levels of proof to prevent any false convictions but there is a cost as well as a benefit.  

    By that logic (none / 0) (#3)
    by TChris on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 10:45:22 PM EST
    we'd all be safest if we were all locked up together. Trials and proof of guilt are just standing in the way of public safety, hey?

    Hm (none / 0) (#5)
    by Steve M on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 12:00:14 AM EST
    Where have you seen all these inmates who readily admit to committing ten crimes for which they were never caught?  I suspect they exist only in your imagination.

    If I'm wrong, of course, I certainly hope you reported this information to the police, so they don't waste countless resources continuing to investigate those unsolved crimes.


    inmates and crimes (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 07:55:59 PM EST
    I'm a psychiatrist in a jail, so I can't reveal details of what I hear to the police unless it's a confession of molesting a child.  Telling the police that someone said he did a burglary in 2006 in a nearby town without full details is of little use anyway.  The context is often something like, "My wife falsely accused me of beating her.  I used to hit her all the time but I didn't this time because I've reformed."  Often the police are aware of stuff going on because of multiple calls that are never processed into arrests.  It's well known, for example, that most pedophiles have numerous victims before they finally get arrested.  (Of course, they usually only admit to that when on parole taking the mandatory lie detectors).  

    If you're a jail psychiatrist (none / 0) (#10)
    by TChris on Sat Feb 07, 2009 at 02:17:49 PM EST
    (never heard of such a thing), I feel sorry for the inmates.

    Me Too (none / 0) (#11)
    by squeaky on Sat Feb 07, 2009 at 02:55:11 PM EST
    Sounds more like more like cruel and unusual punishment than help.

    As far as I can tell (none / 0) (#2)
    by downtownted on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 10:37:14 PM EST
    no one has every pushed this position as a viable political alternative. Being tough on crime gets you elected--remember Willie Horton. The people exposing this are some sort of non politician, consultants, academics, etc. They rarely get elected. And if they keep pushing it, they are ex-politicians.

    Corrupt prosecutors are absolutely immune from punishment for putting the innocent in jail. They get reelected because they are tough on crime. You point to Durham and I point to the rest of the United States where what happened there goes on every day. Citizens all over the country stand up and cheer when the US Attorney has a press conference excoriating a governor where the evidence is so slight they have not been able to get an indictment.

    Being tough on crime gets you re-elected over some well intentioned person who was fair and caring and implemented all of your programs and one of NGs raped and murdered a nice young mother.

    All Lawyers (none / 0) (#4)
    by squeaky on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 11:05:39 PM EST
    Should have to do residence work overseen by the faculty of their departments or an independent agency or both before getting their full licence.

    Don't doctors have to do a residency?  Should be the same for lawyers imo.

    I like what Law professor Charles Nesson at Harvard is doing. His class takes on major cases like a residency.

    How Harvard Law threw down the gauntlet to the RIAA
    Inside one Harvard Law professor's bid to turn his students into cyberactivists and to force the music industry to face the future in the process

    TChris, unless the press (none / 0) (#6)
    by cpinva on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 12:23:22 AM EST
    is lying, all the time, the only people for whom this seems to be "enormously costly":

    And wrongful convictions are enormously costly.

    are those wrongfully convicted. none of the other parties to these seem to suffer any long-term damage.

    don't mind diogenes, he's not been the same, since they did away with the "dunking stool". :)

    I agree with you... (none / 0) (#9)
    by diogenes on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 07:58:17 PM EST
    Wrongful convictions are enormously costly. Wrongful non-convictions are also enormously costly.  Figure out what ratio you like and do the cost-benefit analysis.  I just don't like it when the sole focus is on the wrongful conviction.

    Smart on Crime (none / 0) (#7)
    by conpro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 02:58:53 PM EST
    For anyone looking for broader criminal justice recommendations, Ginny's organization (the Constitution Project) coordinated the publication of a massive report (with over 20 other organizations) called "smart on crime" that covers the panoply of criminal justice issues.

    The report is available here: 2009transition.org/criminaljustice

    (And yes, I don't just read talkleft, I'm also in the pay of the Constitution Project. If you're interested, I'm the second person from the bottom of this list: http://constitutionproject.org/about/staff.cfm)