This week the New York Times reported that a man had been released from prison after spending many years in solitary confinement. Albert Woodfox arrived at Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1971. He was released on February 19, 2016, after more than 40 years behind bars. Much of his time was spent in solitary confinement because of a crime he did not commit.
In 1972 a white correctional office was killed at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Woodfox and two other men were charged for his murder. No forensic evidence linked Woodfox to the crime. There convictions were based only on testimony from witnesses. Since that time, it has come to light that those witness testimonies were problematic.
For more information, read the New York Times article “For 45 Years In Prison, Louisiana Man Kept Calm and Held Fast to Hope” by clicking here.
The Equal Justice Initiative published an article yesterday that examined the record-breaking number of exonerations in the United States in 2015.
The article reports that 149 people were exonerated in 2015 after being wrongfully incarcerated, and according to the National Registry of Exonerations, the number of exonerations in America have doubled since 2011. According to the report, “we now average nearly three exonerations a week,” and “most [now] get little attention” because they happen so frequently.
The article and report also cite a number of ways in which 2015’s exoneration rate is record-breaking. Of the 58 people exonerated for homicide in 2015, more than two-thirds were minorities, and half were African-American. The National Registry of Exonerations also cited official misconduct in 65 of the exonerations in 2015, and three-quarters of the 58 homicide exonerations involved known official misconduct.
There were also 27 exonerations for cases based on false confessions and 65 exonerations for guilty-plea cases. According to EJI’s article, “more than 80 percent of the false confessions were in homicide cases, mostly by defendants who were under 18 or mentally handicapped or both, the [National] [R]egistry [of Exonerations] reports.”
You can read the full article by the Equal Justice Initiative here.
You can read the National Registry of Exonerations report for 2015 here.
In the first few weeks of February, the popular photo blog Humans of New York has featured photographs and stories of federal prison inmates. The inmates are from five prisons across the Northeast. Some inmates tell the story of how they ended up in prison and some talk about what they are doing in prison. One inmate talks about a class he started for parents to send coloring projects, bedtime stories, and other creative projects to their kids. Read his story by clicking here.
Although the blog features mostly people who live in New York City, sometimes photographer, Brandon Stanton, shares stories of people whose voices might not otherwise be heard. In this case that is federal prison inmates. In December he featured stories of Syrian refugees.
To view the blog Humans of New York, click here.
On February 10th, 2016, the Morgridge Center for Public Service and Madison-area Urban Ministry are teaming up to put on an event entitled Returning Prisoner Simulation that is directly related to the themes discussed by Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy.
Participants in the event will have the opportunity to walk in recently released inmates’ shoes as they experience the same obstacles faced by released inmates upon their re-entry to society from jail and/or prison.
The Morgridge Center for Public Service’s Facebook page describes the event more fully, stating that:
“This workshop begins with an introduction to the principles of Restorative Justice and explains the basic needs of returning prisoners. Each participant receives a mock profile that describes the life of a former prisoner and they take on the role of that character during a brief role-play. They must complete fundamental life tasks, such as finding housing and a job, or simply cashing a check.
By incorporating the restorative practice of storytelling, the simulation opens a glimpse into the sense of overwhelming frustration that a newly-released prisoner may feel. Immediately after the role-play, a facilitated debriefing by the simulation director allows participants to share their immediate reactions.”
The event will take place from 6-8:30 pm on Wednesday, February 10th, in the Red Gym at the UW-Madison campus. Participation is limited (there are about 80 spots), so if you are interested in attending, you can register for the event by clicking here.
To view the Morgridge Center’s Facebook page for this event, click here.