The first 250 wrongful conviction exonerations in the United States taught us a great deal. Most obviously, they taught us (or perhaps just reminded us) that nothing in this world matters as much as pure time: the time to freely live. The men from TESTED taught us this repeatedly as they reminded us that their only source of unhappiness is that loss of time – the memories that will never be created and the time that will never be regained. Second, the exonerations taught us that we need systems that support and protect these wrongfully convicted men and women once they are exonerated. And, third, we were taught that things need to change so wrongful convictions don’t just keep on happening.
But what about the unspoken victims? Yes the wrongfully convicted people have been hurt; yes their families have been hurt; yes their loved ones have been hurt. But is that all?
We don’t think so.
When innocent men and women are put behind bars the real perpetrators of the crime are still free and capable of inflicting more harm. In fact, the first 250 wrongful convictions enabled the actual perpetrators to commit at least 72 more violent acts that wouldn’t have happened had they been found sooner. That adds up to a lot of victims, families and friends that have been hurt by the trail of wrongful convictions.
Can you think of other people who are hurt by wrongful convictions? The families of the first victims who wrongly thought that the actual accuser was behind bars? What about taxpayers or whole communities, do they get hurt too?