On Tuesday (September 27), the National Registry of Exonerations published a report called “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 2022" that once again highlighted the racial disparities in the nation's criminal legal system.
The report analyzed more than 3,200 exonerations for murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes since 1989 and found that more than half of those people wrongfully convicted were Black.
“The report really shows the depth of the belief that race is a proxy for criminality in the criminal legal system,” Innocence Project Executive Director Christina Swarns told Yahoo News.
Black Americans account for 53 percent of exonerated people, despite making up just 13.6 of the country's population.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around how much of a failure this is that we have jurisdictions that fail people this spectacularly, and then refuse to acknowledge it and then refuse to sort of make it right … The weight of all of that and the burden of trying to correct all of that is carried by my clients, which is insane to be charitable,” Swarns said.
The report highlighted alarming disparities in wrongful drug convictions.
According to the data, 69 percent of the people exonerated from drug crimes were Black, while 16 percent were white despite studies showing that both groups use illegal drugs at similar rates.
Black people also make up 87 percent of the 260 individuals who were exonerated in individual cases where police officers intentionally framed them for drug crimes.
“Of the many costs that the War on Drugs inflicts on the Black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and the lead author of the report.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Black people are 7.5 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder than white people and eight times more likely to be wrongly convicted of rape, numbers that have slightly increased from the organization's 2017 report.
Factors contributing to the alarming disparities include racial bias and frequent misidentification of Black suspects by white victims, per the report.
Based on the rate of false convictions among death sentences, the National Registry of Exonerations estimates that Black Americans make up more than half of the innocent people behind bars that have not yet been exonerated.