Long ago I came to realize there were many, many people incarcerated who were innocent. And many more who were sentenced incorrectly and counterproductively. It was not because of the rantings of some prisoners constantly screaming about their innocence, though some of those also were innocent. It was because I had come to see the corrections systems in the U.S. and the way "justice" was pronounced from the inside and from an informed perspective.
Through the years I have been the member of the board of directors and president of the board in Washington, DC and in Milwaukee, WI of residential centers for offenders. It may surprise you to learn that both prison systems were horribly administered and by the time we received these offenders we had to undo some of the damage that the prisons inflicted through mismanagement and incompetent staffs. The prisoners were serving time in both state and federal prisons. Sure, many of the offenders deserved to be found guilty and held to account. But the prisons in both areas left much to be desired, and actually were the worst places offenders could be sent. Recidivism rates were high, and the more draconian the system was administered to satisfy the American public who loves to say, "lock 'em up and throw away the key," the more prisoners who returned to incarceration after their release. The American public promotes a way of handling offenders that is counterproductive at best, and an example of Middle Ages mentality at worst.
Now DNA evidence is uncovering some of these atrocities. Many people have been found innocent because of the way DNA evidence can prove innocence or guilt at the scene of the crime or from evidence still stored. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Limited resources and manpower restrict the search for innocent people who are rotting in prison or sitting on Death Row. And when people who donate their time and effort to find these innocent people, uncover the truth in the cases, they often find amazing indications that the justice departments and police officials kept much evidence from juries that would have resulted in very different decisions. The American justice system is atrocious. We should not dismiss this simply with a throw-away statement like, "those who can afford it get off free." It is far worse than just that, but that is true.
Our law enforcement officials and justice department staffs "doctor" evidence or release it in a way to justify their own actions in arresting and/or charging defendents. We should be outraged. But we are not. It says volumes about us. And the fact that a large percentage of people mishandled by justice and law enforcement are black, says much about how bigoted a society we still are.
I have seen it close up. I have seen it from an informed perspective. It turns my stomach. No other advanced industrialized nation in Western Europe or North America treats its offenders this way. We present ourselves as barbarians to the world. And as I post this, there are literally millions of Americans who rejoice that we are still officially sanctioning state murder through capital punishment.
Our prisons in the U.S. are nothing more than training grounds to turn amateur criminals into professional ones. Are you ashamed? You ought to be. I am.
I have twice testified to state legislatures. I hold out little hope that these ill-informed people have any clue about what is happening in prisons, let alone the entire law enforcement and justice system in their state. Our politicians are in a maze of political pay-offs, re-election fund-raising, and too often making harsh religious decisions where religion has no place.