Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

One of the many stories from Prison Nation

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The United States is the Prison Nation: we imprison a far higher proportion of our citizens than any other country. From Wikipedia:

The United States’ incarceration rate is, according to official reports, the highest in the world, at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000 (as of 2005).[7] A report released in 2008 indicates that in the United States more than 1 in 100 adults is now confined in an American jail or prison.[8] The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.[9]

Unfortunately the chart does not include China, which the article states has an incarceration rate of 111 per 100,000, or about 10% of the US rate of incarceration. And unfortunately the graph is out of date on the US incarcertaion rate: it shows 700 per 100,000 and it’s now just over 1,000 per 100,000: adjust that first bar upwards. And note the heavy-handed irony of the US referring to itself as “the land of the free”: lots of countries have freedom, but none lock up their citizens to the degree that the US does. A more accurate tagline would be “the land of the imprisoned.”

So the US is Number One in locking up its citizens, with no other nation even a close second. We’re head and shoulders above the rest (as we are, say, with military spending). But you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, so we get things like this story reported in the NY Times by Michael Hall of the Texas Monthly:

A couple of Fridays ago, Kerry Max Cook, who was released from Texas’ death row in 1997 after two decades, went to pick up his 11-year-old son, Kerry Justice, from his North Dallas school. Class was just letting out. As Mr. Cook approached a group of children and their parents, a little girl squirmed out of her mother’s arms and ran toward him. “Mr. Kerry!” she called. He laughed as she jumped into his arms. “Haleigh!” he shouted, and began tickling her. “She adores Mr. Kerry,” her mother said.

The same jolly scene followed Mr. Cook as he walked around the small campus — children calling out to him, laughing, jumping into his arms. Vicki Johnston, the school’s director, looked on, smiling. “Kerry’s such a big part of the school,” she said. “He’s like a pied piper to the kids.” Asked about his past, Ms. Johnston simply said: “We know him. We know what kind of man he is.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Cook, 15 years after his release, the State of Texas still does not share Ms. Johnston’s view. Though he is widely recognized as one of the country’s most famous exonerated prisoners, Mr. Cook is not legally exonerated. In fact, in the eyes of the state, he is still a killer — convicted of the 1977 rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards.

Mr. Cook’s situation is complex. His death sentence was twice overturned by higher courts, and DNA taken from the victim’s underwear did not match his own, and the evidence used to convict him has been shown to be entirely fallacious — but because Mr. Cook pleaded no-contest to the murder on the eve of what would have been his fourth trial, he cannot be declared actually not guilty.

Nevertheless, Mr. Cook has become a high-profile spokesman for the wrongfully imprisoned. He has published a book about his experience and has been one of the subjects of a popular Off Broadway play, “The Exonerated,” which was later made into a film. He has given speeches all over the United States and Europe. His Facebook page contains pictures of Mr. Cook with actors like Robin Williams, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stiller, who have been drawn to his story.

Yet Mr. Cook lives in the shadows with his wife and their son, knowing that whenever he applies for a job or gets on an international flight, he will be identified as a convicted murderer. Now he hopes to change that, with two motions filed recently in Smith County, where the case was originally heard, that could finally clear his name. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 1:23 pm

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