In 2011 the Better Government Association in Illinois reported that wrongful convictions had cost taxpayers $214 million in settlements. An update (here) indicates that, since the 2011 investigation—which was done with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law—government agencies have agreed to pay another nearly $39 million to settle lawsuits resulting from persons wrongfully convicted, primarily of murder and other serious felonies. And according to an ABC7 report (here), at least ten cases are currently pending in Illinois courts, which could soon move the cost of wrongful convictions to $300 million or more in the state of Illinois alone.
Of course, the settlement costs do not include the cost of incarcerating 85 innocent people for a total of 926 years since 1989, nor the human costs of wrongful incarceration, nor the costs of crimes committed by the real perpetrators who escaped apprehension while innocent persons languished in prison.
While the highest of the awards make headlines, few observers would likely trade lives with any of the recipients. Many who are wrongfully convicted nationwide receive no compensation and most who do must contend for it with the assistance of legal advocates. For example, Eric Caine, who spent 25 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, received $199,150 from the state of Illinois, according to the ABC7 report by Ben Bradley. He has a lawsuit pending against the city of Chicago.
Many wrongful convictions in Illinois revealed false confessions that were obtained under the watch of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who is now serving a four-and-a-half year sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice relating to alleged abuses in the interrogation of suspects.
CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a segment (here), entitled “The False Confession Capital,” on Dec. 9, 2012. The title came from defense attorneys’ reference to Chicago, which, according to CBS, has “twice as many documented false confession cases as any city in the country.” Nearly half of the $39 million in settlements since the 2011 report involved cases in which the wrongfully convicted alleged that their confessions were coerced.
As costs of wrongful conviction mount, reform efforts are emerging. State Senator Kawme Raoul (D-Chicago) has introduced a bill in the legislature that would require video recording of police interrogations in violent felony cases. Currently, video recording is required only in homicide cases. The broader recording of interrogations is just a start toward reform, but, considering the unfortunate false confession record of Chicago, it’s a highly appropriate one.