Monday, November 26, 2007

Coping With Freedom & the System's Screw Ups

This Sunday's New York Times had an extensive article about the difficulties faced by men who have been wrongfully convicted are released from prison following DNA-based exoneration. A study of men is such situations show that they have problems reintegrating into society, for a multitude of reasons.

For one thing, many of them have missed a whole chunk of their formative years - learning to be self-sufficient adults - that were spent behind bars. For another, even after proceedings show they were wrongfully convicted, there is a stigma attached to men who have served time. Sadly, many of them received no compensation from the state for their wrongful convictions. As a perverse result, they sometimes wind up in worse shape than if they had simply served their time as convicts:

Few of those who were interviewed received any government services after their release. Indeed, despite being imprisoned for an average of 12 years, they typically left prison with less help — prerelease counseling, job training, substance-abuse treatment, housing assistance and other services — than some states offer to paroled prisoners.

'It’s ridiculous,' said Vincent Moto, exonerated in 1996 of a rape conviction after serving almost nine years in Pennsylvania. 'They have programs for drug dealers who get out of prison. They have programs for people who really do commit crimes. People get out and go in halfway houses and have all kinds of support. There are housing programs for them, job placement for them. But for the innocent, they have nothing.'
To drill the point home, the Times has a companion article about the struggles of Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit:
Having spent nearly half his life locked up, accused of brutalizing a high school classmate he hardly knew, Mr. Deskovic was sent into the world last fall lacking some of life’s most fundamental skills and experiences.

He had never lived alone, owned a car, scanned the classifieds in search of work. He had never voted, balanced a checkbook or learned to knot a tie.
How did Deskovic end up in prison?
On Nov. 15, 1989, Angela Correa — a sophomore at Peekskill High, like Mr. Deskovic — slipped a 'New Kids on the Block' tape into a portable cassette player and took her camera to a park near her home, snapping a picture of a dove perched on the roof as she left. Two days later, someone spotted her naked body in the woods.

The police retrieved hair and semen samples, which did not match Mr. Deskovic’s DNA; prosecutors argued that they were from earlier consensual sex. Mr. Deskovic, however, fit the description provided by a criminal profiler for the police, and raised investigators’ suspicions when he cried copiously at Ms. Correa’s funeral, though they were not close friends. (In a recent interview, Mr. Deskovic explained that he was always picked on in school and Angela was one of few students who were nice to him, once helping him with algebra.)

After repeated questioning over two months, Mr. Deskovic confessed during a seven-hour interrogation and polygraph test, telling the police he had hit Ms. Correa with a Gatorade bottle and grabbed her around the throat. In the lawsuit, Mr. Deskovic contends that detectives fed him these details, and promised that if he confessed he would not go to prison but would receive psychiatric treatment.

'I was tired, confused, scared, hungry — I wanted to get out of there,' he recalled recently. 'I told the police what they wanted to hear, but I never got to go home. They lied to me.'
More than 1/4 of men exonerated through DNA testing gave confessions.

Not every wrongful conviction is the result of prosecutorial tunnel vision, police misconduct, or dubious profiling techniques. Sometimes honest mistakes are made that result in a person being sent away when they are innocent. Regardless of how they got there, however, once they get out, society owes them more than a simple "sorry about that" on their way out the prison door.


The Film Geek said...

Excellent post!

Muze Euterpe said...

That is so f'ing depressing.

So, cops are allowed to withold food and sleep from suspects to get them to confess?

Rebecca Burch said...

Yeah, what Muze said! :(

Buzzardbilly said...

Isn't being wrongfully incarcerated one of the scariest things you can think of?

Curmy and I are addicted to procedural cop dramas on TV. There are lots of things they are allowed to do to suspects that seem to cross the lines of decency. The one that bothers me the most is (according to TV shows, anyhow) the police can lie about how much evidence they have against a person in order to get them to give up.

JDB said...

Sadly, buzzardbilly, in that instance the TV shows get it right. Cops can and do lie to you to get confessions. The whole "we're your friends, just talk to us, we'll help you out" is part of the game to get a suspect's trust.

My advice if you're ever in a situation where the cops want to "chat" with you - regardless of whether you're guilty of anything - tell them four words: "I want a lawyer."

Buzzardbilly said...

But, of course, JDB. That way I would know the faces on the other side of the mirror were squinching up while saying, "She's lawyered up" (notice: No one ever gets "lawyered down").