Seeing the Dale Helmig presentation last week made me want to do further research on the topic. In the United States today, over 400 wrongly convicted, incarcerated, and exonerated people - exonerees - are trying to put their lives back together. As we have seen with Dale, it is very hard to get your life together after you are exonerated. There are so many special programs and work positions for actual guilty people coming out of prison, but there are no such programs for exonerees. This to me just makes absolutely no sense. We are giving guilty people more of a fighting chance then the innocent people whose lives we have basically ruined. Another huge problem for the innocent people is how to adjust to life outside prison. They tend to spend an average of 13 years behind bars before they are exonerated. In dale’s case he came out of prison and the amount of technology that has advanced is incredible. Not only was he wrongfully convicted, but he has even further problems now that he’s out of prison. Many of the people exonerated in this country go through the exact same problems and face the same hardships.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s, 139 people have been exonerated from death rows in 25 states; this is roughly one exoneree for every eight people executed. This to me is a tragedy, and really makes you think about how many innocent people in our CJS system have been killed by the death penalty. I thought in our CJS system we would much rather let 10 guilty person go free, than lock up 1 innocent person. I’m starting not to think that is true anymore. What is proving a lot of the people innocent is due to the new advances in DNA testing introduced in the U.S. court in 1986. These people are raising awareness to the public that innocent people really do get convicted, frequently because of false eyewitness statements, incompetent defense attorneys, false confessions, snitch testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct. As we saw in Dale helmig’s case there was great prosecutorial misconduct, along with an incompetent defense attorney. What is crazy to me is how this exact same situation applies to hundreds of other people all over the U.S.
However, like I said before the greatest tragedy here is how the exonerated people are treated after their release. A study by the Berkeley, California-based Life After Exoneration Program found that after their release: Half of the exonorees are living with family. This was true in Dale’s situation. 2 in 3 are not financially independent, 1 in 3 loose custody of their children, and finally 1 out 4 suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. All formerly incarcerated people face similar barriers. Most of the world treats exonerees like anyone else with a criminal record: both groups are chronically underemployed, both groups have difficulty accessing routine government services, and both groups are routinely denied the right to vote, live in public housing, get food stamps, or access college loans. I guess my questions are why do we treat innocent people like guilty people? How can we continue to further raise awareness for exonerated people? Why do we not have any programs for these exonerated people? Something needs to change soon in our CJS system. Innocent people are continuing to be locked up and in my mind one of the worst situations are being locked up knowing you are INNOCENT.