Commentary: Half of All Innocents in Jail Are Black

A new registry of exonerated criminals shows that Blacks make up the majority of innocent people thrown into jail.

Posted: 05/21/2012 06:33 PM EDT

Here’s a terrifying statistic many people in the Black community may have already suspected: Of the people in prison for crimes that they didn’t commit, five out of 10 are Black. That means that despite the fact that African-Americans make up less than 15 percent of America’s population, they make up 50 percent of the innocent people thrown into jail.


That sad and scary bit of information comes thanks to the painstaking work of some graduate students and professors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is no official record of criminal exonerations in the United States, which is why two law schools joined together to make one. The University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law teamed up to compile the largest database on exonerations in American history. Their findings are chilling.


The researchers were able to obtain at least some information on more than 2,000 exonerations since 1989. Nine out of 10 of the exonerations were male, and the people falsely convicted and imprisoned spent a combined 10,000 years in prison before being let out of jail. More than 100 of the people convicted were set to be executed before being saved at the last minute.


Samuel Gross, a Michigan Law professor and editor of the new National Registry of Exonerations, has said that there are “many more” innocents they have yet to find, and surely many more existed before the year 1989.


This news comes on the heels of a report that says Texas may have almost surely killed an innocent man on death row in 1989. The man that died that time was Latino. Most Americans like to think that our nation is well beyond its sickening impulse to lynch criminals without due process of the law. But thanks to the exoneration database, we can now see that innocent brown and Black people are still very much in danger of falling victim to a deeply flawed justice system.


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(Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)