Kentucky residents may have read media stories about innocent individuals being set free after sending decades in prison. A report issued on Feb. 3 by the National Registry of Exonerations, which is a University of Michigan Law School project, revealed that a record number of prisoners were exonerated in 2015, and researchers said that much of the credit should go to prosecutors around the country who have reviewed previous convictions for indications that the defendants may have been innocent.
According to the report, the 149 prisoners exonerated in 2015 spent an average of 15 years behind bars before being freed. The criminal justice system has been widely criticized for its harsh treatment of ethnic minorities, and the report reveals that about half of the exonerated prisoners in 2015 were African American and more than two thirds were non-white. The exonerated prisoners had been serving sentences for crimes ranging from minor offenses to murder, and five of them had been on death row prior to their release.
High-pressure police tactics designed to extinguish hope and keep suspects in a state of high anxiety have been linked to false confessions, and the report reveals that 27 of the prisoners exonerated in 2015 had falsely confessed to committing crimes that they actually took no part in. The researchers say that most of these false confessions were extracted from children or adults with mental handicaps or learning disabilities.
Individuals charged with crimes in Kentucky who have little or no prior experience with the criminal justice system are sometimes discouraged from invoking their constitutional rights by skilled police officers who warn them that such behavior could be taken as a sign of guilt. The nation's jails and prisons contain many people who thought that they could reason with police officers, and this is why criminal defense attorneys will generally discourage their clients from making statements of any kind to authorities unless they are present.