Wrongful Convictions’ Effect on Crime Levels

Wrongful convictions affect the the innocent party and the guilty party in numerous ways. While the innocent party is locked up for something he/she did not do, the guilty is out free in society, possibly committing more crimes. Sure, the wrongfully committed person will be convinced to stay away from crime, considering that they know what will happen to them. However, the guilty has yet to experience prison and will continue to commit crimes that affect society. Locke Bowman writes about the direct effects of wrongful convictions: “for the enormous personal toll for those directly affected by wrongful conviction, the practical costs to the entire criminal justice system of such miscarriages, and the moral implications for society at large, it is more noteworthy how little reform has actually occurred and how incomplete the reforms have been” (Bowman 1505).

In addition, Henrik Lando shares three reasons explaining how wrongful convictions do not lead to crime deterrence. First, he states, “Wrongful convictions may end investigations, thereby lowering the probability that the true identity of the offender will be convicted”. Second, he adds, “A potential offender may not want to forego a crime opportunity, since others may then seize the opportunity, in which case the former may be wrongly convicted”. Lastly, he explains, “The prospect of being (correctly) sanctioned may seem less threatening when there is a possibility that the sanction will come on top of a wrongful sanction” (Lando 330). These three examples for why wrongful convictions don’t deter crime should be enough for the criminal justice system to focus on their previous wrongdoings, yet they continue to happen. Why do you think this is?

As we have learned in class, Durkheim’s theory of Functionalism was based on the idea that society without crime is impossible (Richman 9/25). However, did Durkheim consider the possibilities of wrongful convictions. Did he think they were necessary to society? Marx also thought that conflict is inherent in society and that society is in constant conflict. Do wrongful convictions need to be part of this “constant conflict”?

Compensation for those who are wrongfully convicted also has an effect on the crime levels. I believe that wrongfully convicted people should receive compensation for their time in prison. Fon and Schaffer, who believe in compensation, write, “Those wrongfully convicted and later exonerated should be compensated for many reasons. The wrongfully accused typically incur legal expenses for defense, lose earning opportunities and their reputations while in prison, and suffer psychological harm. It is just to compensate these victims – society is responsible for rectifying its errors by helping these victims regain normal lives when they are released from” (Fon and Shaffer 270). The system wronged them and they should, figuratively and literally, pay for their wrongdoing. Those who have been exonerated should be given the incentive to not get their own “revenge” on the system and what’s a better incentive than money?

Ultimately, wrongful convictions are harmful not only to the innocent, but to society as the real criminal remains free.