A Screwed Up Criminal Justice System
It’s no secret that our criminal justice system is deeply flawed. But in the last two days, I’ve seen two stories that surprised even me. Dahlia Lithwick reports on Virginia’s failure to notify people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence.
Years ago, Virginia authorities realized they were likely convicting innocent men. The state’s officials know their criminal justice system is riddled with errors. As they investigated the depth of the problem, they have found that indeed many more men—at least dozens, maybe more—might be exonerated using DNA tests. But the state’s authorities did not move quickly to suspend these sentences or contact the individuals or families involved. They did not publicize their findings. Indeed, they denied Freedom of Information Act requests that would have shed light on the problem. Rather, Virginia state officials appears to have devised a system of notifying current and former convicts that is almost guaranteed to lead to the fewest number of exonerations.
And Erica Goode describes the state of solitary confinement in America.
At least 25,000 prisoners — and probably tens of thousands more, criminal justice experts say — are still in solitary confinement in the United States. Some remain there for weeks or months; others for years or even decades. More inmates are held in solitary confinement here than in any other democratic nation, a fact highlighted in a United Nations report last week.
At least Goode’s story has a (sort of) happy ending. Many states are cutting back solitary confinement for economic reasons (it is much more expensive to isolate a prisoner than to keep them in general population). I guess even a recession has some benefits. Now if only we could rethink the entire system.