2013 Was a Banner Year for Letting Innocent People Out of Jail

87 were released from prison in 2013 after proving they didn't do it


Unfortunately it takes 10 years to play the card.
Parker Brothers

Eighty-seven — It seems like such a small number compared to the more than two million adults currently incarcerated in the United States. Eighty-seven is the number of people exonerated and freed from prison in 2013, and that tiny number is a record high.

The National Registry of Exonerations put out its report (pdf) for 2013 today with these new figures. A couple of interesting details to note:

  • The number of people being freed from prison due to DNA evidence is dropping. Only 18 were freed in 2013 due to innocence determined by DNA evidence.
  • A record number of the exonerations – 15 – were of prisoners who had pleaded guilty. The registry reports the number continues to climb.
  • The number of exonerations that involve non-violent crimes is also increasing, though the majority of cases involved murder or sexual assault. One exoneration in 2013 was of a person on death row.
  • More than a third of the exonerations were obtained with the cooperation of law enforcement. The registry notes, "[P]olice and prosecutors appear to be taking increasingly active roles in reinvestigating possible false convictions, and to be more responsive to claims of innocence from convicted defendants."

That small number of 87 may also end up growing. The registry isn't always made immediately aware of every exoneration. They added 234 exoneration cases to the registry during 2013, many from previous years.

The report also calculates some averages based on all the exonerations they've reported since 1989 (1,281 exonerations). As a group, these prisoners (mostly men) spent 12,500 years in jail, an average of 10 years for each improperly convicted prisoner.