Academic Reports Reinforce Racial Bias in Convictions

A pair of reports released Tuesday examining wrongful convictions in the United States found that there were a record number of exonerations in 2016 — the third such record-setting year in a row — and that innocent black people face a raft of racial disparities that make them more likely to wind up behind bars, and to remain there longer than whites.

Researchers at the National Registry of Exonerations, which is run by the University of California, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State, published the data. Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan and an author of the race study, attributed the growing number of exonerations to increased awareness and resources, and he said they were part of persistent pattern: the number of exonerations climbed to 166 last year, up from 149 the year before and more than double the number of cases in 2011.

The registry has collected data on nearly 2,000 cases since 1989. Researchers found that racial disparities disproportionately impacted black people across the three crimes they examined — murder, sexual assault and drug charges. Innocent blacks, for instance, were seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent whites and three-and-a-half times more likely to be convicted of sexual assault. Once convicted of the latter, the researchers found, wrongly convicted black people spent four-and-a-half years longer in prison than whites.