The Economics of the Innocence Project

As you may know, the Innocence Project is a “nationally recognized litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice”. Geoff Gerling, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, relates that the process of exoneration is an expensive one:

  • In cases where there is no DNA evidence, and legal services are obtained pro bono, the cost of navigating the legal system to obtain an exoneration can be as high as $750,000. Without pro bono legal services, you’re looking at at least a million, and probably more.
  • When DNA is available for analysis, add $10,000 to $100,000.
  • It takes ordinarily 7 to 10 years to obtain an exoneration for a false conviction.

On Monday, we got an idea of the number of false convictions that have been overturned in the US over the last 23 years:

More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.

There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.

The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

They found that those 873 exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each. Nine out of 10 of them are men and half are African-American.


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