Proven Innocent

February 26, 2019, 2:39 pm

In the ’90s and throughout the 2000s, television schedules exploded with new police and criminal justice shows. Law and Order (and its many offshoots), NYPD Blues, Blue Bloods, Criminal Minds, Cops, and dozens of other shows climbed the ratings and held the attention of the public for years at a time. Not coincidentally, this was also the same time the American prison population exploded to all-time highs. The close correlation revealed the truth of the popular saying, “Art imitates life.” America’s fascination with the world of crime and criminal justice could not be satisfied. But one major problem with art imitating real life is that much of the truth is missing.

These popular television shows sensationalize crime, which is often much messier and clumsier than portrayed. They also glorify law enforcement, which is often much more mundane and prone to mistakes and corruption than portrayed, and deify the courts, which are riddled with injustice. Also missing from a one-hour television show is the reality that the time from crime to prison is often months-long, and sometimes years-long. It’s rarely quite so neat and quick as the crime shows lead one to believe.

Recently, a new television show began on Fox called “Proven Innocent.” While the show, like all TV shows, has its issues, I’m encouraged to see that art is now imitating a shift in public interest. People are still fascinated with the world of crime, law enforcement, and the courts, but they are also much more aware of and concerned about the prevalent problems in the criminal justice system. Proven Innocent centers on a woman who, with her brother, was falsely imprisoned for ten years for the murder of her best friend. After her conviction was overturned, the protagonist in the show earns her law degree and starts an innocence clinic to fight for others who were wrongfully convicted. Also highlighted in the show is a corrupt district attorney who is running for state’s attorney general. His story line illustrates the problem in the court system when conviction rates are more important than justice.

Throughout my now ten years in prison, I have met dozens of men who claim to be innocent. I am not naive enough to believe all of them are telling the truth, but I have heard some compelling stories and read some disturbing court records of convictions off of the weakest circumstantial or hearsay evidence. Another television show currently playing on HLN delves into the stories of people on Death Row, and some of their stories are riddled with inconsistencies, questionable evidence, and serious doubts of guilt. Yet, some states continue to put to death people whose guilt is questionable. How does this happen in a country like America?

Nevertheless, I am encouraged to see that entertainment is now beginning to focus on the problems in the criminal justice system instead of simply dramatizing and exalting a system that has led to rampant injustice. Politicians, too, are beginning to recognize the many problems in this system, and slowly they are making changes. As the public becomes more educated about the problems in the criminal justice system, and the lies that led to America’s exploding prison population are debunked, perhaps we’ll see fewer innocent people incarcerated. Hopefully we’ll also see alternatives to incarceration that honor human dignity gain ground, and we’ll see a system that respects victims enough to put their needs above the dishonest goal of high conviction rates. 

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Author: Bryan Noonan
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.