Chicago journalist Flowers goes deep into the cases of three innocent men and a woman serving at least a decade in prison for crimes they never committed.
The case of the woman's wrongful conviction occurred in mostly rural Decatur County, Indiana; the cases of all three men occurred in densely populated Cook County, Illinois (Chicago), infamous for a fractured criminal justice system. Each case received local media coverage over the years, but none of the four is well-known nationally. No author has covered the years after exoneration with the same depth as Flowers does in this disturbing book. Although the case studies are not intended as narratives of prison life, the author does provide insights into prison routines, including the many cruelties endured by inmates. As with thousands of other documented wrongful convictions across the United States, the cases chosen by Flowers seem absurd in hindsight: how could so many detectives, prosecutors, forensic analysts, judges, and jurors make such egregious errors, while the actual perpetrators remained unpunished? The only heroes within the system are the defense appellate lawyers who labor for years on wrongful conviction litigation. Flowers' primary focus, however, is the lack of compassion shown to the exonerated defendants after their releases from prison. Illinois, Indiana, and most other states erect obstacles to compensating exonerees financially for their lost years and their physical and emotional suffering, and some states provide no compensation. Flowers ably shows that even under the best of circumstances, exonerees struggle with family relationships, job searches, recovery from prison-related health problems, adjustments to new technologies, and more. She does offer examples of efforts, mostly poorly funded, to help exonerees, but she makes the significant point that prisoners actually guilty of crimes often receive more government assistance after release than exonerees.
A thoroughly researched, provocative book of justice gone wrong.