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How Many Wrongful Convictions?

Updated on July 16, 2017

How many wrong incarcerations?

How many incarcerated worldwide? That question led me to an article on Wikipedia (it has valid sources), that shows incarcerations by nation. The USA ranks first on this list with 716 000 incarcerations at the time this poll was done. Going up and down the list, one discovers particularly astonishing and probably unexplainable things, i.e. why does the Democratic Republic of the Congo where heinous crimes happen daily, only have 30 000 people in Prison? Is it because of corruption or poor law enforcement? Are America’s high figures of incarceration a result of good law enforcement and a great justice system? Whether that is the case or not for incarcerations throughout the world, one thing is bothersome about Prisons everywhere, the incarceration of the innocent.

The incarceration of the innocent, if you do not see it in documentaries aired on television, being contested by those who are lucky enough to be able to, does not mean anything to those who do not know of anyone that was wrongly convicted. The subject means something completely different when one day you wake up and someone you love dearly is accused of committing a heinous crime and they are eventually sentenced either to life in Prison or death.

Writing for the The Nation, Liz Webster heads her article with a pertinent question “How Many Innocent People Have We Sent To Prison?” She goes on to share the story one Beverly Munroe who was behind bars for 8 years and was later exonerated by evidence that was discovered by her attorney. According to this article, there are about 136 000 inmates who are innocent serving all kinds of sentences in American jails today. Some will die there, others may be exonerated after serving long sentences and be sent back to nowhere in particular to restart their broken lives.

If America, which is expected to have an impeccable justice system, struggles with this hefty baggage of incarcerating the innocent; letting the guilty go free or unpunished, what about not so wealthy countries with indifferent governments? While America has the Center for Wrongful Convictions of North Western University’s School of Law working in conjunction with the Michigan School of Law, trying to exonerate the innocent, those in other parts of the world stay rooted with their sentences and face execution threats daily.

Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison

Prisoners in prayer at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe, Zambia.
Prisoners in prayer at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe, Zambia. | Source


Justice in the balance
Justice in the balance | Source
Sentencing | Source

Why Are You Being Unfair to Us?

"You people are treating us unfairly," Sharon's cry to the judge that sentenced her and her husband to death by hanging.

Sharon and Felix were a newlywed young Zambian couple. Sharon’s life was peaking, with a new job that offered her a good salary and great working conditions, a new home, husband and even a baby. Felix was just launching out as an Assistant Pastor for a great new congregation in the Capital City of Lusaka. Because their family was growing and they had better paying jobs, they chose to move to another area of the city where they would have a better home. But, prior to their moving, something disturbing happened. One evening Sharon returned home to find her maid missing and her baby lying in bed with a noose around her neck. The baby did not die, nor did they know where to find Sarah Soko, their baby’s nanny. Later that evening, they reported the issue to the nearest Police Station which was about half a mile from their house.

As the case unfolded, they became the major suspects, and three days later when they found the body of Sarah Soko, not dumped in a thicket not far from their house, they were both arrested and thrown into jail, without bond until they would be tried. Sharon’s baby remained with her in jail for a few days, until the women’s organizations and female journalists began to make noise about the child’s condition. Eventually, they let Sharon’s mother take the baby. That was way back in 2001. Sharon and Felix were tried four years later, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

Currently they are in Zambia’s maximum Prison, Mukobeko, waiting to be executed. For those of us who knew Sharon and Felix, our belief remains unshaken about their innocence, and unchanging account of what happened the day Sarah was murdered. Their story has remained the same over the many years they were held without trial, even if they were held separately and were never allowed to see each other. Law enforcement painted an ugly picture of them. Investigations were not conclusive nor did any evidence found on the scene link them to the murder after DNA testing was done by Scotland Yard.

Incarcerated Innocent

Behind bars.
Behind bars. | Source
Female Prisoner shackled in a jail cell
Female Prisoner shackled in a jail cell | Source
Prisoner helping with Fema program in Florida
Prisoner helping with Fema program in Florida | Source

How is life Behind Bars for the Innocent?

To whom do people like Sharon and Felix turn for help, after they are judged guilty twice by the same judge in the lesser and higher court? When the News Papers forget them and move on to look for more titillating stories; the innocent incarcerated carry their innocence and bitterness with them to jail. Deep in their conscience, they know exactly what happened, they know they were wrongly convicted and must unfairly serve sentences that they should not be serving. Families are devastated because a lot of change has to take place, anger, frustration and disbelief at being failed by a justice system that you may have trusted, given the innocence of your loved ones. The children of the incarcerated are not like other children, they have parents except they cannot live with or be supported by them, and they cannot even see their parents, sometimes. These children do not qualify to be looked at as orphans but their status is not very different, may be even worse because they are regarded children of offenders and may have to be protected all their lives.

Is there hope for Sharon and Felix who have been waiting to be executed for the past nine to ten years, while they have been incarcerated for close to 15 years? These once upon a time young people who were in their 20s when they were incarcerated are well into their 40s or close. Their skills and relevance in society is all but forgotten and friends have long since forgotten about them, may be once in a while they are remembered by those who were pretty close, but that is all that happens because most feel powerless to help them. Others probably hope that by some chance, the President of the country under his Prerogative of Mercy, might pardon them one day.

Missionaries of exoneration

Who Will Help With Exoneration?

The Truth & Justice Foundation

The Truth and Justice Foundation, founded in the year 2000 by one Dr Nash Thompson II say they offer legal services to indigent prisoners behind bars or those on trial. The Truth and Justice Foundation which was founded and is based here in America, seeks justice on behalf of those still on trial and in danger of being convicted. It also works with those already incarcerated to seek redress and bring justice.

The Truth and Justice Foundation is one of the organizations whose work is worldwide. Like the Center for Wrongful Convictions, the T&J Foundation operates through grants and donations from well-wishers. People give to these efforts by volunteering their services, equipment, time, money and other resources to make the carriage of justice possible. They do pre and post trial work with people who do not have the money to help themselves. Founded as a 501 (C) 3 organization, the Foundation is a non profit that is funded through donations and public funds. Please visit their website to find out more about them. If you are not sure, ask questions at the phone numbers provided on the website, and for your peace of mind, you can go through the BBB to find out more about their dealings with the public.

This is one of the few bodies I found that seems to be managed by an individual.
On their website, T&J talk a lot about donations going to fund the National Innocence Project. From the information provided, this project could be another brain child of the T&J which is funded by them, it should not be confused with The Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project

This project was established in 1992 by Barry C Scheck and Peter J Neufield. It is a legal clinic affiliated to the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. They focus on exonerating the incarcerated innocent through evidence based on DNA findings. Since most of their clients are not able at most times to handle the financial burdens the rigorous processes require, the Innocent Project depends on the giving of well wishers and the public to fund them. They provide legal expertise, professional resources and the backing of pro bono lawyers through the law school.

The Innocence Project goes beyond exonerating the incarcerated or working to prevent incarceration of those on trial, by working with their clients, until they are settled down. Many who are exonerated find themselves in a great dilemma upon release, often, they do not know where to start from. The Innocent Project has been working to fight for legislation that would seek compensation and financial assistance to resettle the innocent. Some 27 states do recompense exonoress. Beyond that, the Innocent Project from within what is donated, are able to help exonerated people by meeting some of their needs.

The Bluhm Legal Clinic and Center For Wrongful Convictions

The Center for Wrongful Convictions of the Michigan Law School is affiliated to the Northwestern University's Law School which forms a network of clinics. CWC was opened in 1998 to a skeptical reception by most who believed in the American justice system, and who did not think it was possible that there were really people in Prison, who were innocent. The CWC has done a lot of work over the past 15 years to research the causes of wrongful convictions, develop laws and methods that will help prevent incarcerations of the innocent. They do a lot of advocacy work for all sectors of society in relation to matters of justice and crime. So far, the Center for Wrongful convictions have exonerated many and hosts the only known registry of all exoneration in the United States, since 1989 when the first prisoner was exonerated by evidence provided through DNA. If you visit the exoneration registry, the number today (08/27/2013) stands at 1,191 exonerated.They work with incarcerated individuals to exonerate them.

CWC is the mouthpiece of the innocent, reaching out to law makers and following through on legislation geared to improve the justice system and stem wrongful convictions. Their enthusiasm to see individuals exonerated and the amount of work they put into the processes and system is clearly unmatched.

The CWC website will give the story of every exonoree. They have the faces of the cases that were exonerated, they update their website regularly (daily) to incorporate all new developments in their line of work. They are the true watch dog of the imprisoned innocents and their families.

To get help from the CWC, there are only two conditions they require, that a potential client assert that they had nothing to do with the crime in question; and if it is a non-DNA case, that they have a minimum of ten years remaining on their sentence.

The National Institute of Justice

The National Institute of Justice is the agency for research, development and evaluation for the U S Department of justice. It uses scientific methods to learn more about crime and promote justice, at state and local level. The NIJ has an international center that is interested in combating international crime by learning more about crimes in the face of new technologies.

The National Institute of Justice funds programs that are doing work related to physical and social science research, development and evaluation about criminal justice. issues of crime and justice that are based on scientific methods. On their website, they provide the kind of information that those seeking exoneration desire to have access to, like the legal clinics and various organizations working with the incarcerated or about to be incarcerated.

The National Institute of Justice provides funding, awards and training to stakeholders in this field of crime and justice. Their reach is wide and they tackle more subjects about forensics, corrections and various arms of law enforcement etc.

The Bluhm Legal Clinic (Center for Wrongful Conviction) says that there are between 3% and 15% or 60,000 to 285 000 wrongly convicted in American jails today. The Center also states that there are about 2 million prisoners in America today. Coupled with what was found one Wikipedia report that the United States of America has the highest number of Prisoners in the world. That among America's multitudes of prisoners, the innocents rank in the hundreds of thousands.

This brings us to the conclusion that while America has a well ordered justice and law enforcement system, it is not impeccable, it requires the involvement of each of one of us with our expertise to build a better system. If the world follows America where it goes, a highly polished and workable justice system in America, might just mean better systems and much to emulate for other countries that are struggling with similar issues. Issues like those of Sharon and Felix, the innocent couple that remains incarcerated, awaiting execution and may be praying and hoping that somebody will one day exonerate them.

Why Wrongful Incarcerations Happen

Chart showing reasons why people are convicted wrongfully.
Chart showing reasons why people are convicted wrongfully. | Source

Why Are The Innocent Incarcerated

Innocent people are incarcerated yearly throughout the world, and as long as humans run the justice system there will always be wrongful convictions. Some organizations have committed themselves to seeking justice for the wrongfully incarcerated. Much research has gone into identifying the innocent incarcerated, finding out why they were incarcerated, righting the wrongs and exonerating them.

So, one might ask, why are innocent people incarcerated. I hinted on some points earlier in this article about witness errors, government misconduct and a host of other issues. The National Institute provided us the following model after their research, you may want to compare it with one from the Center on Wrongful Convictions:

Sharon & Felix Muleba Are Here!


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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      5 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on social networking sites.

      This is an excellently researched, written and presented hub article. Thank you for the information about organizations dedicated to getting innocent persons out of prison.

      The American courts and prison system is the shame of the nation. The conviction and imprisonment of innocent persons if just one problem. Given the imperfection of human psychology and perceptions, there are bound to be some mistaken accusations and convictions. Hopefully techniques and checks and balances can be developed to minimize those. For sure the death penalty should be abolished, because you cannot undo a wrongful execution.

      A widespread problem is bias in the system. Both statistics and sociological research studies show that, for the same behavior, the odds of getting charged with a crime, of getting convicted of that crime, and of getting a long sentence for that crime are higher or lower depending on one's race, ethnicity, location, wealth, etc. One of the books that discusses this problem and presents the facts is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

      Another problem is that a significant portion of those in prison are "guilty" of acts that should never have been made illegal in the first place. Persons close to me in my life have been alcoholics. That ruined their health, careers, relationships, self-respect, and more. Some with much effort and help attained sobriety and turned their lives around. Others did not. Either way, it would help no one if the law turned alcoholics into criminals, with prison sentences for possessing and for drinking booze. It does not make any more sense to consider potheads and drug addicts criminals. Recognizing that unwise drug use is a social and medical problem, not a crime problem (as some countries and some states have done) would free many persons from prison who do not belong there. Of course drug addiction is no excuse for robbery or other real crimes, and of course regulations are needed. No one wants a drunk or stoned person driving a school bus or as a defense lawyer or monitoring the safety of a nuclear power plant.

      A huge problem is the inhumane treatment of prisoners. Tens of thousands of prisoners in California are on hunger strike to protest such treatment, and prisoners are similarly treated in other states. The United Nations concluded that solitary confinement for more than 15 days is torture. In the US there are many cases of prisoners being put in solitary confinement for years, even decades. This is a matter of the punishers being as morally bad as the worst of the criminals being punished.

      And the worst problem is the privatization of many US prisons. Justice cannot be even-handed and unbiased if more prisoners means more profit.

      Jesus advocated visiting the imprisoned. That is a good way to be reminded of their humanity.

    • donnaisabella profile imageAUTHOR

      Isabella Mukanda-Shamambo 

      7 years ago from Fort Myers

      Hey Cris, thanks for reading and for the encouragement. Most appreciated. Thanks for the share too.

    • CrisSp profile image


      7 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Interesting but Sad indeed, donnaisabella. Will share the story. There is hope...keep well.

    • donnaisabella profile imageAUTHOR

      Isabella Mukanda-Shamambo 

      7 years ago from Fort Myers

      Emer, thanks for coming by. I know it is a depressing story, I intend to talk enough about it in the hope of resurrecting it and that some lawyers can take it up for justice. If the legal dept is very flawed here (and I know it is), imagine what it is like in developing countries where sometimes there is not even much of a system in place?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I found this very depressing. Our legal department is very flawed and it is a huge problem. This was very well written and informative. Voted up. :)


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