Report: Blacks Made up 61% of 2023 Exonerees

This post was originally published on Word In Black.

By: Aswad Walker

In the latest edition of “Is this good news or bad news,” out of 153 exonerations in 2023, roughly 61% of exonerees were Black, according to a new report published by The National Registry of Exonerations released on March 18.

The good news: Blacks lead in receiving exonerations.

The bad news: Blacks innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted are still being incarcerated at insanely high rates.

Top Exonerating States

Illinois had the most exonerations (24), followed by Texas (22), and New York (21).

In 2023, individuals who were cleared of wrongdoing collectively “lost” 2,230 years of their lives because those years of freedom had been unjustly taken away. On average, each exoneree endured 14.6 years of wrongful imprisonment, according to the new study.

And though the exonerees can’t go back in time and reclaim what was lost, they are excited to move forward living life outside of prison walls.

In May, 1994, Dallas resident Richard Miles found himself heading to prison for murder at 19 years old, sentenced to 60 years. He was released in 2009, but wasn’t officially declared innocent until three years later. For Miles, though thankful for his eventual freedom, he still feels the pain of those years lost, and more.

“I oftentimes say, ‘May 15, 1994 is the day that Richard Ray Miles, Jr. died.’ I became a number – 728716,” Miles told CNN.

Compensation Amounts

The Registry noted that wrongfully convicted Black Americans have been compensated with a staggering $4 billion by state and local governments since 1989. This compensation has nearly doubled in just five years since 2019 when exonerees received approximately $2.2 billion. This notable increase mirrors the rising number of exonerations and highlights one of the expenses associated with wrongful convictions, particularly in states like Illinois, New York, and Texas.

The $4 billion paid to wrongfully convicted Blacks is viewed by some similarly to the money paid by cities whose police and sheriff’s departments have been cited for misconduct – as a price the criminal justice system is willing to pay for the right to continue to engage in misconduct.

A 2022 Washington Post investigation found 25 of the nation’s largest police and sheriff’s departments spent more than $3.2 billion to settle alleged misconduct claims within the past decade, including $1.5 billion in cases involving officers who were accused of misconduct more than once.

But police and sheriff’s departments aren’t fitting the bill. That money comes from the tax payers, including those who were victims of the misconduct or the wrongful convictions.

According to the report, New York issued the highest amount of restitution to wrongfully convicted individuals, with compensation reaching $1.1 billion. Around 70% of the funds were allocated for damages in civil lawsuits, typically footed by cities and counties. In the Lone Star State, exonerees were granted $192 million, with 86% of it provided as state compensation.

“This demonstrates once again a troubling reality in America’s justice system,” said Barbara O’Brien, professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor of the Registry.

“With 153 exonerations, predominantly affecting people of color, and billions in compensation paid since 1989, the toll of wrongful convictions is undeniable.”

O’Brien asserts that official misconduct continued to undermine the integrity of the most series cases, including those in which innocent defendants were sentenced to death.

“And while compensation is being granted, it remains inequitable,” added O’Brien.

Restitution Varies by Defense

The Registry found that the amount of restitution paid to those wrongfully convicted varied depending on the offense.

Sadly, misconduct tainted 118 of the 2023 exonerations, accounting for 77% of cases. Among homicide exonerations, 85%—or 75 cases—were plagued by official misconduct. Other contributing factors included perjury, false accusations, erroneous forensic evidence, mistaken witness identification, false confessions, and inadequate legal representation, often occurring in various combinations.

According to the report, out of 153 exonerations, 86 cases—making up 56%—involved individuals previously convicted of murder, with four facing death sentences. Since 1989, half of all exonerees and 53% of those exonerated for murder have received some form of compensation.

Jeffrey Gutman, a contributor to the recent report, expresses concern that the number of exonerations among Black Americans may increase further without reforms to the justice system.

“This total will get bigger in the next few years, rapidly. The number of states that pay compensation to exonerees is growing. Many exonerees have claims that are still pending, and we’ll keep seeing more exonerations of innocent people who spent decades in prison, probably at an accelerating rate.”


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