Study: Wrongful convictions cost Illinois taxpayers $214 million (and the innocent 926 years in prison) | Bleader

Study: Wrongful convictions cost Illinois taxpayers $214 million (and the innocent 926 years in prison)


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The Better Government Association and the Northwestern law school's Center on Wrongful Convictions have converted the moral and human cost of imprisoning the innocent in Illinois into dollars and cents.

"Wrongful convictions of men and women for violent crimes in Illinois have cost taxpayers $214 million," report BGA senior investigator John Conroy and the center's executive director, Rob Warden, who led a seven-month examination of 85 cases dating back to 1989 in which persons convicted of violent crimes were eventually exonerated.

A former Reader staff writer, Conroy wrote about several of these cases for this paper during the years in which he focused on police torture in Chicago.

"The financial toll was calculated by adding the costs of incarceration in jails and prisons, compensation paid to the wrongfully convicted by the state in the wake of exoneration, and civil litigation costs (lawyers fees, expert witness fees, and judgments and settlements)," says Conroy and Warden's report, which is posted on the BGA website.

"The study also suggests that the total financial cost to state taxpayers will approach or surpass $300 million in the next several years as 16 civil suits now pending and a 17th to be filed later this year are settled or come to trial."

Conroy and Warden note that "56 pf the 95 cases originated in Chicago," and most of the bill has had to be paid by Chicagoans. They tell us that "while the BGA/CWC study revealed that almost all of the wrongful convictions were caused by multiple factors, the cause most commonly alleged was government error and misconduct by police, prosecutors, and forensic officials."

To be fair, they seem to have overlooked one financial consideration that would lower the overall cost of wrongful convictions to taxpayers. If police hadn't impetuously arrested the wrong persons, in some cases they might eventually have arrested the right ones, and the same daily costs of incarceration would have had to be paid.

But if that had been so, Conroy and Warden do tell us that a less tangible but substantial human cost would have been avoided.

"While 85 people were wrongfully incarcerated, the actual perpetrators were on a collective crime spree that included 14 murders, 11 sexual assaults, 10 kidnappings and at least 59 other felonies," says their report. "Moreover, the 94 felonies in that crime spree may be just a fraction of the total number of crimes committed by the actual perpetrators. The investigation found that the 85 exonerations left 35 murders, 11 rapes, and two murder-rapes with no identified perpetrators and thus no way to add up their accumulated crimes."

The innocent spent a total of 926 years in prison, Conroy and Warden calculated.

Here's their breakdown, case by case, of how much each wrongful conviction cost the taxpayer.

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