Measuring Self-Reported Wrongful Convictions Among Prisoners

  • Charles E. Loeffler
  • Jordan Hyatt
  • Greg Ridgeway
Original Paper

Abstract

Objectives

Estimate the frequency of self-reported factual innocence in non-capital cases within a state population of prisoners.

Methods

We conducted a survey of a population sample of state prisoners who were asked to anonymously report their involvement in the crimes for which they were most recently convicted. To assess the validity of verifiable responses, prisoner self-report data were compared to aggregate conviction and demographic information derived from administrative records. To assess the validity of unverifiable responses, we developed a non-parametric test to estimate the probability of false innocence claims.

Results

We estimate that wrongful convictions occur in 6% of criminal convictions leading to imprisonment in an intake population of state prisoners. This estimate masks a considerable degree of conviction-specific variability ranging from a low of 2% in DUI convictions to a high of 40% in rape convictions. Implausible or false innocence claims are estimated to occur in 2% of cases.

Conclusions

The present investigation demonstrates that survey methods can provide bounded estimates of factual innocence claims within a discrete and known population. The resulting estimates, the first to formally separate claims of legal and factual innocence and to incorporate a formal measure of response plausibility, suggest that prisoners themselves are very often willing to self-report the correctness of their convictions. At the same time, a considerable minority indicate that procedural weaknesses with the administration of justice occurred in their cases. And, a distinct minority, with considerable offense variation, maintain that they are completely innocent of the charges against them.

Keywords

Wrongful conviction Innocence Binomial mixture model Self-report Prevalence 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles E. Loeffler
    • 1
  • Jordan Hyatt
    • 2
  • Greg Ridgeway
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of CriminologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice StudiesDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of StatisticsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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