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Doing the time without doing the crime

by Breonnah Colón - Lifestyles Editor
Sat, Dec 9th 2017 05:00 pm

As children, most people dreamed of growing up because of the notion that as an adult, they can do whatever they want. Kids hate being told they have to end their video games to do homework, can’t go visit their friends before finishing chores or, perhaps the worst of all, being punished for something they did and can no longer have access to their phones. 

However, as time passes and we finally become adults, we realize this preconceived notion was mostly just a false reality we yearned for because we cannot, in fact, do whatever we want and we still do have to stop hanging out with our friends to do work and chores.

We still get punished, and if we’re lucky, it’s just by our mom or dad and all we lose is the privilege of not having our phones. 

But the reality can be much worse.

The idea of punishment is not particularly popular. People tend to dislike having their rights limited or taken away, and they hate being treated as less than human even more. As a society, freedom is a widely shared value, yet there is one exception to the rule: prison. 

The other side of the freedom coin is quite explicit and often times held to very strict cruel social stigmas that follow along the lines that no one should have their rights infringed upon, unless they commit a crime. Following this logic, if one commits a crime, they chose to do so understanding that there could be heavy consequences, therefore they deserve any and all punishment applicable under the court of law. The more severe a crime, the heavier the emphasis is on dealing consequences to those charged.

While there are clear social norms regarding how a criminal should be treated and viewed, things begin to get hazy in addressing situations when someone gets charged and convicted for a crime they never committed in the first place. 

Like we did when we were children, most of us assume that those in higher authority tend to have everything figured out and can never be wrong. 

The truth of the matter is, sometimes they are. According to bop.gov, there are approximately 184,458 individuals making up the population of federal prisons across the United States. 

These do not include jails located locally, statewide or sites that exist in U.S. territories. All together, the U.S. hosts approximately 2 million people in prisons across the country  —  the highest rate per capita in the world. Of those 2 million, about 200,000 people are wrongfully convicted, according to HuffPost.

This is a huge issue because hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens are being wrongfully punished for no reason other than the fact that legal justice system let them down. 

Such individuals on average spend 12 years in prison, separated from their loved ones, limited in their freedoms and often treated as less than human. 

To make matters worse, there is a social stigma against people who have been convicted of crimes, especially on a federal level. In addition to going to jail for no reason, victims also face social obstacles upon release.

If someone can prove they have been wrongfully convicted, they can be financially compensated by the state they live in; however, this  varies by state. Despite this seemingly positive circumstance, states often have strict criteria and policy to meet which can limit or reject compensation altogether, according to a CBS article. Regardless of money, individuals can never get back years of their lives missed in prison.

The College at Brockport hosted a seminar regarding this issue aimed at helping students understand the nitty gritty circumstances that can take place in such situations. 

Panel speakers were Democrat and Chronicle’s investigative reporter, Gary Craig, and a local criminal justice professor, Megan R Kienzle. Both panelists gave insight into the sorts of obstacles faced by victims wrongfully convicted, as well as possible options available to address such an issue. 

Kienzle explained that at times, forensics are not as clear as we’d like to think they are. There are certain times when a suspect is considered to be of higher interest than others and with this information, forensic scientists tend to come to conclusions that favor investigator’s idea of who is guilty. This can happen even if that person didn’t commit the crime in reality. 

Kienzle then went on to explain there are some rare instances where forensic analysts won’t conduct tests, but claim to.

“It’s not a common thing,” Kienzle said. “But it does happen.”

This is something Craig agreed with throughout his own work. Craig has worked on cases during which people have faced decades in prison. 

Two that tend to stick out the most to Craig are cases about Fred and Betty. He emphasizes the importance of never speaking to police officers during an investigation without a lawyer. He also heavily advises the general public to understand that sometimes the courts “get things wrong.”

As citizens who make up this country, it is important for everyone to remain as informed as they can regarding their local and federal laws so that they will be able to understand and address any issues they or their loved ones may face. 

Being on time–out for 15 minutes was too much as a child — being in prison for 15 years is certainly something we would all like to avoid as adults. 

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