What is Giving Compass?
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Giving Compass' Take:
• The Marshall Project interviews criminal justice advocate Jennifer Thompson and political scientist Frank Baumgartner, a husband and wife team studying the effects of wrongful convictions. Together, they show how fixing the system can help fight crime.
• In a small sample size taken from North Carolina, out of 36 exonerations, six real perpetrators on the loose committed 99 subsequent crimes, including 13 violent felonies. If we were able to overturn more wrongful convictions, how many crimes could we prevent?
• If you're looking to foster criminal justice reform, the Open Philanthropy Project lists some orgs that make an impact.
Jennifer Thompson (pictured above) has told her harrowing tale many times. In 1984, a man broke into her apartment and sexually assaulted her at knifepoint. She picked Ronald Cotton out of a police lineup, and he was sent to prison. But a decade later he was proven innocent and released. The two met and eventually co-authored a book, “Picking Cotton.” They toured the country, advocating for laws that might prevent such tragedies. The real perpetrator, Bobby Poole, was identified through DNA, and died in prison in 1998.
But here’s the lesser-known epilogue: After the book was released, Thompson was contacted by a woman named LuAnn Mullis. Mullis had also been sexually assaulted by Bobby Poole, months after Cotton was wrongfully arrested. In fact, Poole had been accused of more than 20 crimes after the police arrested the wrong man. “If they had done it right then, what happened to me would not have occurred,” Mullis told Thompson.
Thompson spoke in her public appearances about how wrongful convictions contribute to crime by allowing the guilty to go free. But there were no numbers.
It just so happened that Thompson married a political scientist named Frank Baumgartner, who for years has studied data on wrongful convictions. Together, they began discussing how to show the public that preventing wrongful convictions is not just a way of stopping individual injustices: it’s a way of fighting crime.
Later this year, Baumgartner will co-publish an article in the Albany Law Review called “The Mayhem of Wrongful Liberty,” which explores the details of a number of individual cases and lays out some admittedly speculative numbers, to show the problem’s magnitude.
Read the full article about the husband and wife team studying wrongful convictions by Maurice Chammah at The Marshall Project.