Posted by | March 13, 2012 13:52 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

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.

By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.