More than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989 in the United States, according to a report by college researchers who have established the first national registry of exonerations.
Researchers say their registry is the largest database of these types of cases and showcases some of the major issues with the criminal justice system, including that the leading causes of wrongful convictions are perjury, faulty witness identification and misconduct by prosecutors.
The registry itself, which looks deeply into 873 specific cases of wrongful conviction, examined cases based on court documents as well as from groups that have long documented wrongful convictions. That group of wrongfully convicted spent more than 10,000 total years in prison, according to the report, with an average of 11 years each.
The database is a fully searchable list of those who were convicted, broken down by their crimes, sentences and reason for exoneration. Some go into extensive detail about the long and treacherous roads to exoneration that prisoners have undergone.
Although the registry report makes clear that most convictions in the U.S. are correct, the database shows a larger need to look closely at how the criminal justice system works, the authors say. The researcher’s summaries failed to discuss the dynamics of race, gender and socio-economic status of individuals wrongfully convicted, or if there was any correlation between social status and treatment within the criminal justice system.
The report also shows which states have exonerated the most people. It notes that Illinois and New York may top the list in part because of the large presence of two major wrongful conviction centers in each state. From 1989 to 2011, the following states had tallied the most exonerations:
1. Illinois: 101
2. New York: 88
3. Texas: 84
4. California: 79
5. Michigan: 35
6. Louisiana: 34
7. Florida: 32
8. Ohio: 28
9. Massachusetts: 27
10. Pennsylvania: 27