This is how great America is at the whole criminal justice thing.
There are a number of people who’ve been put in jail because it was believed they were guilty of a federal crime, but when it turned out that this was not in fact the case, there’s nobody whose job it is to tell anyone that these people shouldn’t be locked up.
If you want to challenge a conviction that’s landed you in prison, there are laws and protocols you have to follow to do that. A minor detail like not having committed any crime doesn’t get around this fact, and the Justice Department don’t consider it their job to let these prisoners know that it’s been officially acknowledged that they’re innocent.
These cases are largely unknown outside the courthouses here, but they have raised difficult questions about what, if anything, the government owes to innocent people locked in prisons.
“It’s been tough,” said Ripley Rand, the U.S. attorney in Greensboro, N.C. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about issues of fundamental fairness, and what is justice.” [emphasis added]
They’ve spent a lot of time talking about this. I wonder what pointlessly insubstantial waffle they must have been saying, if we’re still debating whether the government owes anything to people it’s locked up in cages for absolutely no reason.
I once worked in admin at a psychiatric hospital for about a year, and noted with interest how much red tape and form-filling had to be done in order to continue justifying the detention of individuals under the Mental Health Act.
Most of the patients had regular recourse to a hearing by a Tribunal or a panel of independent managers, and have the details of their case scrutinised by outside experts and legal advisors. The paperwork giving the hospital the right to detain them was usually only valid for a fixed period, and regularly needed to be formally extended, with a number of qualified staff signing off on it. Occasionally, a deadline would approach while something important hadn’t been signed or dated or faxed through, and we’d have to scurry into action to get it sorted, otherwise we’d be illegally detaining someone against their will and they’d sue. If things were formalised even a day late, it was a big deal.
My point is, in my limited experience with psychiatric treatment in the UK, the authorities were constantly having to work to provide evidence that they were justified in imposing restrictions on other people’s liberty. If they didn’t, their rights to detain anyone would lapse in time, and things would tend generally toward a state of freedom. This seems like quite an important idea.
It doesn’t seem to be one the US prison system places much stock in.
Perhaps they’re worried about the expense of all that extra bureaucracy. In which case, Penn Jillette has a cost-cutting measure they might want to consider.