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Out of 153 exonerations in 2023, around 61% of exonerees were Black, according to a new report published by The National Registry of Exonerations released on March 18. New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon were the top states for exonerations last year.

In 2023, individuals who were cleared of wrongdoing collectively reclaimed 2,230 years of their lives that had been unjustly taken away. On average, each exoneree endured 14.6 years of wrongful imprisonment, according to the new study.

The Registry noted that wrongly convicted Black Americans have been compensated with a staggering $4 billion by state and local governments since 1989. This compensation has nearly doubled in just five years since 2019 when exonerees received approximately $2.2 billion. This notable increase mirrors the rising number of exonerations and highlights one of the expenses associated with wrongful convictions, particularly in states like Illinois, New York, and Texas.

According to the report, New York issued the highest amount of restitution to wrongfully convicted individuals, with compensation reaching $1.1 billion. Around 70% of the funds were allocated for damages in civil lawsuits, typically footed by cities and counties. Meanwhile, in Texas, exonerees were granted $192 million, with 86% of it provided as state compensation.

“This demonstrates once again a troubling reality in America’s justice system,” said Barbara O’Brien, professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor of the Registry.

“With 153 exonerations, predominantly affecting people of color, and billions in compensation paid since 1989, the toll of wrongful convictions is undeniable.” 

O’Brien added, “Official misconduct continued to undermine the integrity of the most series cases, including those in which innocent defendants were sentenced to death And while compensation is being granted, it remains inequitable.”


The Registry found that the amount of restitution paid to those wrongfully convicted varied depending on the offense.

Sadly, misconduct tainted 118 of the 2023 exonerations, accounting for 77% of cases. Among homicide exonerations, 85%—or 75 cases—were plagued by official misconduct. Other contributing factors included perjury, false accusations, erroneous forensic evidence, mistaken witness identification, false confessions, and inadequate legal representation, often occurring in various combinations.

According to the report, out of 153 exonerations, 86 cases—making up 56%—involved individuals previously convicted of murder, with four facing death sentences. Since 1989, half of all exonerees and 53% of those exonerated for murder have received some form of compensation.

Jeffrey Gutman, a contributor to the recent report, expresses concern that the number of exonerations among Black Americans may increase further without reforms to the justice system.

 “This total will get bigger in the next few years, rapidly. The number of states that pay compensation to exonerees is growing. Many exonerees have claims that are still pending, and we’ll keep seeing more exonerations of innocent people who spent decades in prison, probably at an accelerating rate.”


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